Statute of Limitations on Arrest Warrants

Written and Fact Checked by The Law Dictionary Staff  

Being charged with a crime needs to be taken seriously. For those who have been issued an arrest warrant, it is extremely important that they respond to it in the appropriate manner. Ignoring an arrest warrant will not make it go away and could turn the accused into a fugitive. However, in some cases an accused may only become aware of a warrant for his or her arrest years or even decades after the alleged offense was committed. In such situations, it may be reasonable for the accused to ask whether statute of limitations apply to arrest warrants. The answer to this question can become complicated, especially given the diversity of state laws on statutes of limitations, but below is a brief overview of how time limits come into play when an arrest warrant is issued.

Are there statutes of limitations on arrest warrants?

The simple answer to this question is no, there are no statutes of limitations on arrest or bench warrants. When an arrest or bench warrant has been issued, it remains in force regardless of the amount of time that has passed. The state has determined that sufficient evidence exists to pursue a case against that defendant, thus, when it issues an arrest warrant then that warrant is considered valid regardless of the time that has elapsed since the warrant’s issuance.

Executing a warrant

However, while an arrest warrant does not expire, prosecutors and law enforcement must execute the warrant in a timely manner. State laws vary considerably in how quickly officials must move to execute a warrant. Generally, however, the state must prove that it made a reasonable effort to locate the accused individual. If the state made little or no effort to find that individual then the case against that individual may be dismissed by a judge.

Statute of Limitations

Statute of limitations don’t usually apply to arrest warrants themselves. Rather, statutes of limitations place time restrictions on how long prosecutors can wait after an offense has been committed before they begin criminal proceedings. Furthermore, statutes of limitations vary depending on the state where the offense occurred and the severity of the crime. Misdemeanors, for example, will usually have a short statute of limitation than a felony offense would. If the defendant becomes a fugitive then the statute of limitations may also be increased in some states.

Right to a speedy trial

Although arrest warrants never expire, it is important to recognize that the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution grants defendants the right to a speedy trial. How this right is interpreted varies from state to state and it usually only applies in cases where the sentence could result in jail or prison time. If a defendant’s right to a speedy trial has been violated then the case may be dismissed.

While the statute of limitations does not apply to arrest warrants, there are various other time factors, as outlined above, that can impact the outcome of a criminal case. Anybody who has been charged with a crime, however, should contact an attorney immediately. Ignoring the charges is never a good option and it could make one a fugitive, thus potentially increasing the penalties one may ultimately face.

 

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