Criminal Statute of Limitations in Massachusetts

Statutes of limitations refer to time limits for the government to bring criminal charges in a case. If the prosecution charges someone after the applicable time period has passed, the person charged can likely have the case dismissed. Keep reading today’s blog to learn about the statutes of limitations for certain crimes in Massachusetts.

Statute of Limitations in Massachusetts

In Massachusetts and most other states, violent crimes generally have longer statutes of limitations, and other crimes like murder and rape of a child have no statute of limitations, meaning a criminal case can be filed at any time. In special circumstances, statutes of limitations are “tolled” (suspended) to allow the government more time to bring forward a case.

Generally, civil and criminal cases have different statutes of limitations. Some common examples of civil actions include personal injury claims, medical malpractice, and breach of contract. In most cases, time limits for civil actions usually range from 1-10 years.

Murder, Manslaughter, and Sexual Offenses

Massachusetts law sets time limits for specific crimes. Offenses not specifically listed in the statute will have a general statute of limitations of 6 years after the crime, like with civil lawsuits.

Murder, manslaughter, and sexual offenses like rape are a few crimes that either have no time limit or have specific time limits in the state. As mentioned earlier, there is no statute of limitations for a murder offense, which means that a charge of alleged murder can be brought to the court’s attention at any time after the incident, no matter how much time since the alleged murder has elapsed. Manslaughter, however, does have a statute of limitations and can only be prosecuted 6 years after the offense was committed; any accusation brought forward after 6 years will likely not be examined by the court.

The following crimes involving sexual offenses committed against minors do not have a time limit and can be brought forward at any time after the alleged offense:

  • rape of a child younger than 16;
  • assault of child younger than 16 with intent to commit rape;
  • indecent assault and battery of child younger than 14;
  • sexual abuse of a child younger than 18;
  • sex trafficking of child younger than 18.

However, note that if the case is filed more than 27 years after the crime was committed, the prosecutor must have independent, corroborating evidence in addition to the victim’s testimony.

Other rape and sexual offenses do have a specific time period for a case to be brought forward before it will no longer be accepted. Rape committed by force or threat of force and assault with intent to commit rape have a statute of limitations of 15 years after the offense. Sex trafficking crimes also have a statute of limitations of 15 years. Offenses involving incestuous marriage or sexual activities have a time limit of 10 years after the offense was committed.

Crimes against vulnerable victims also have a specific time limit before the case can no longer be brought forward. Robbery or assault with intent to rob or murder a person age 60 or older can only be prosecuted within 10 years after the offense. Stealing by confining or putting fear into a person age 60 or older also has a statute of limitations 10 years after the offense. However, indecent assault and battery on a person with an intellectual disability do not have a time limit for bringing forward a case, though if the incident is brought to the court’s attention 27 years after it occurred, the prosecuting side must have independent, corroborating evidence.

Note that the statute of limitations generally starts when the crime occurs. However, in circumstances where it is difficult to discover the crime or an alleged victim might be particularly scared to report it, the law might decide to extend the limitations period or delay the start date for counting the statute of limitations.

Special Cases

There are a couple exceptions for when the statute of limitations may change. For one, Massachusetts law extends a prosecutor’s window to charge certain crimes committed against people younger than 16. Examples of such crimes could be drugging a minor for sexual intercourse, enticing a minor to commit sex or prostitution, dissemination of harmful matters to minors, and unlawful and lascivious acts. The court will not start counting the time limit for prosecution of these crimes until the alleged victim turns 16 years old or the violation is reported to a law enforcement agency, whichever occurs earlier.

Additionally, if a person if found to avoid prosecution, such as by fleeing the state, the law gives the prosecutor extra time to file charges. In Massachusetts, the statute of limitations will not run while the defendant is not usually and publicly a resident in the state, granting the prosecution more time to work on the case until the defendant ultimately returns. In effect, this rule does not provide any benefit for an individual evading prosecution by leaving the state.

Charged with a Crime? Let Brad Bailey Law Help.

If you believe you may be charged with a crime in Massachusetts, one of the first things you should consider is what the statute of limitations is for your specific accusation. A good defense attorney can better help you understand your situation and the criminal statute of limitations that may help your case.

For more information, contact Brad Bailey Law.

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