Statutes of limitations are laws passed by legislative bodies in
common law systems to set the maximum time after an event within which
legal proceedings may be initiated.
When the period of time specified in a statute of limitations passes,
a claim might no longer be filed, or, if filed, may be liable to be
struck out if the defense against that claim is, or includes, that the
claim is time-barred as having been filed after the statutory
limitations period. When a statute of limitations expires in a
criminal case, the courts no longer have jurisdiction. Most crimes
that have statutes of limitations are distinguished from serious
crimes as these may be brought at any time.
In civil law systems, similar provisions are typically part of their
civil or criminal codes and known collectively as periods of
prescription. The cause of action dictates the statute of limitations,
which can be reduced (or extended) to ensure a fair trial. The
intention of these laws is to facilitate resolution within a
"reasonable" length of time. What period of time is considered
"reasonable" varies from country to country, and within countries such
as the United States from state to state. Within countries and
states, the statute of limitations may vary from one civil or criminal
action to another. Some nations have no statute of limitations
Analysis of a statute of limitations also requires the examination of
any associated statute of repose, tolling provisions, and exclusions.
3 Statute of repose
4 Tolling and the discovery rule
6 Laws by region
6.1 International crimes
6.7 South Korea
6.8 United Kingdom
6.9 United States
6.9.1 Civil statutes
6.9.2 Criminal statutes
188.8.131.52 Initiation of charges
184.108.40.206 Heinous crimes
220.127.116.11 State laws
18.104.22.168 Fraud upon the court
22.214.171.124 Continuing-violations doctrine
6.9.4 Military law
7 See also
Common law legal systems can include a statute specifying the length
of time within which a claimant or prosecutor must file a case. In
some civil jurisdictions (e.g., California), a case cannot begin
after the period specified, and courts have no jurisdiction over cases
filed after the statute of limitations has expired. In some other
jurisdictions (e.g., New South Wales, Australia), a claim can be filed
which may prove to have been brought outside the limitations period,
but the court will retain jurisdiction in order to determine that
issue, and the onus is on the defendant to plead it as part of their
defence, or else the claim will not be statute barred.
Once filed, cases do not need to be resolved within the period
specified in the statute of limitations.
The purpose and effect of statutes of limitations are to protect
defendants. There are three reasons for their enactment:
A plaintiff with a valid cause of action should pursue it with
By the time a stale claim is litigated, a defendant might have lost
evidence necessary to disprove the claim.
Litigation of a long-dormant claim may result in more cruelty than
In Classical Athens, a five-year statute of limitations was
established for all cases except homicide and the prosecution of
non-constitutional laws (which had no limitation).
that these statutes of limitations were adopted to control
"sycophants" (professional accusers).
The limitation period generally begins when the plaintiff's cause of
action accrues, meaning the date upon which the plaintiff is first
able to maintain the cause of action in court, or when the plaintiff
first becomes aware of a previous injury (for example, occupational
lung diseases such as asbestosis).
Statute of repose
A statute of repose limits the time within which an action may be
brought based upon when a particular event occurred (such as the
completion of construction of a building or the date of purchase of
manufactured goods), and does not permit extensions. A statute of
limitations is similar to a statute of repose, but may be extended for
a variety of reasons (such as the minority of the victim).
For example, most U.S. jurisdictions have passed statutes of repose
for construction defects. If a person receives an
electric shock due to a wiring defect that resulted from the builder's
negligence during construction of a building, the builder is
potentially liable for damages if the suit is brought within the time
period defined by the statute, normally starting with the date that
construction is substantially completed. After the statutory time
period has passed, without regard to the nature or degree of the
builder's negligence or misconduct, the statute of repose presents an
absolute defense to the claim.
Statutes of repose are sometimes controversial; manufacturers contend
that they are necessary to avoid unfair litigation and encourage
consumers to maintain their property. Alternatively, consumer
advocates argue that they reduce incentives to manufacture durable
products and disproportionately affect the poor, because manufacturers
will have less incentive to ensure low-cost or "bargain" products are
manufactured to exacting safety standards.
Tolling and the discovery rule
The examples and perspective in this article deal primarily with the
United States and do not represent a worldwide view of the subject.
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Many jurisdictions suspend, or toll, the limitation period under
certain circumstances—for example, if the aggrieved party
(plaintiff) is a minor or has filed a bankruptcy proceeding. In those
instances, the running of limitations is tolled (paused) until the
Equitable tolling may also be applied if an individual
may intimidate a plaintiff into not reporting or has been promised a
The statute of limitations may begin when the harmful event (such as
fraud or injury) occurs or when it is discovered. The Supreme Court of
the United States has described the "standard rule" of when the time
begins as "when the plaintiff has a complete and present cause of
action", a rule in existence since the 1830s. A "discovery rule"
applies in other cases (including medical malpractice), or a similar
effect may be applied through tolling. As discussed in Wolk v. Olson,
the discovery rule does not apply to mass media such as newspapers and
the Internet; the statute of limitations begins to run at the date of
publication. In 2013 the Supreme Court of the United States ruled
Gabelli v. SEC
Gabelli v. SEC that the discovery rule does not apply
to U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission's investment-advisor-fraud
lawsuits, since one purpose of the agency is to root out fraud.
In private civil matters, the limitations period may generally be
shortened or lengthened by agreement of the parties. Under the Uniform
Commercial Code, the parties to a contract for sale of goods may
reduce the limitations period to one year but not extend it.
Limitation periods known as laches may apply in situations of equity;
a judge will not issue an injunction if the requesting party waited
too long to ask for it. Such periods are subject to broad judicial
For U.S. military cases, the
Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ)
states that all charges except those facing court-martial on a capital
charge have a five-year statute of limitations. In all UCMJ
proceedings except those headed for general court-martial, if the
charges are dropped there is a six-month window in which they can be
reinstated. If six months have passed without reinstatement, the
statute of limitations has run out.
This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (June
In civil law countries, almost all lawsuits must be brought within a
legally-determined period known as prescription. Under Italian and
Romanian law, criminal trials must be ended within a time limit.
In criminal cases, the public prosecutor must lay charges within a
time limit which varies by jurisdiction and varies based on the nature
of the charge; in many jurisdictions, there is no statute of
limitations for murder. Over the last decade of the
20th century, many United States jurisdictions significantly
lengthened the statute of limitations for sex offenses, particularly
against children, as a response to research and popular belief that a
variety of causes can delay the recognition and reporting of crimes of
this nature.
Common triggers for suspending the prescription include a defendant's
fugitive status or the commission of a new crime. A criminal may be
convicted in absentia. Prescription should not be confused with
the need to prosecute within "a reasonable delay" as obligated by the
European Court of Human Rights.
Laws by region
Under international law, genocide, crimes against humanity and war
crimes are usually not subject to the statute of limitations as
codified in a number of multilateral treaties. States ratifying the
Convention on the Non-Applicability of Statutory Limitations to War
Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity agree to disallow limitations
claims for these crimes. In Article 29 of the Rome Statute of the
International Criminal Court, genocide, crimes against humanity and
war crimes "shall not be subject to any statute of limitations".
The Limitations Act of 1958 allows 12 years for child survivors and
the disabled to make a claim, with age 37 the latest at which a claim
can be made. The police submitted evidence[not in citation given]
to a commission, the Victorian Inquiry into Church and Institutional
Child Abuse (in existence since 2012) indicating that it takes an
average of 24 years for a survivor of child sexual abuse to go to the
police. According to Attorney General Robert Clark, the government
will remove statutes of limitations on criminal child abuse; survivors
of violent crime should be given additional time, as adults, to deal
with the legal system. Offenders of minors and the disabled have
used the statute of limitations to avoid detection and prosecution,
moving from state to state and country to country; an example
presented to the Victorian Inquiry was the Christian Brothers.
An argument for abolishing statutes of limitations for civil claims by
minors and people under guardianship is ensuring that abuse of
vulnerable people would be acknowledged by lawyers, police,
organisations and governments, with enforceable penalties for
organisations which have turned a blind eye in the past. Support
groups such as SNAP Australia, Care Leavers
and Broken Rites have submitted evidence to the Victoria inquiry,
and the Law Institute of Victoria has advocated changes to the
statute of limitations.
For crimes other than summary conviction offences, there is no statute
of limitations in Canadian criminal law. For indictable (serious)
offences such as major theft, murder, kidnapping or sexual assault, a
defendant may be charged at any future date; in some cases,
warrants have remained outstanding for more than 20 years.
Civil law limitations vary by province, with
the Limitations Act, 2002 on January 1, 2004.
In Germany, statute of limitations on crimes varies by type of crime,
with the highest being 30 years for second-degree murder (Totschlag).
First-degree murder, genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and
crime of aggression have no statute of limitations.
First-degree murder used to have 20 years statute of limitations,
which was then extended to 30 years in 1969 and abolished altogether
in 1979 in order to prevent that Nazi murderers would benefit statute
of limitations but can be charged with those crimes until death.
The statute of limitations in India is defined by the Limitations Act,
The statute of limitations for criminal offences is governed by Sec.
468 of the Criminal Procedure Code.
The statute of limitations on murder was abolished by a change in law
on 1 July 2014, causing any murders committed after 1 July 1989 to
have no statute of limitations. This led to the national police force
implementing a new investigation group for old cases called the "Cold
Case" group. The law was also changed to let cases involving domestic
violence, forced marriage, human trafficking and genital mutilation to
count from the day the defendant turns 18 years old. Cases where the
statute of limitations has already passed can not be extended due to
the constitution preventing it.
In July 2015, the National Assembly abolished a 25-year-old statute on
first degree murder; it had previously been extended from 15 to 25
years in December 2007.
Main article: Limitation periods in the UK
Unlike other European countries, the United Kingdom has no statute of
limitations for serious sexual crimes.
In the United States, statutes of limitations may apply to both civil
lawsuits and to criminal prosecutions. Statutes of limitations vary
significantly between U.S. jurisdictions.
A civil statute of limitations applies to a non-criminal legal action,
including a tort or contract case. If the statute of limitations
expires before a lawsuit is filed, the defendant may raise the statute
of limitations as an affirmative defense to seek dismissal of the
A criminal statute of limitations defines a time period during which
charges must be initiated for a criminal offense. If a charge is
filed after the statute of limitations expires, the defendant may
obtain dismissal of the charge.
Initiation of charges
The statute of limitations in a criminal case only runs until a
criminal charge is filed and a warrant is issued, even if the
defendant is a fugitive.
When the identity of a defendant is not known, some jurisdictions
provide mechanisms to initiate charges and thus stop the statute of
limitations from running. For example, some states allow an indictment
of a "John Doe" defendant based upon a DNA profile derived from
evidence obtained through a criminal investigation. Although rare,
a grand jury can issue an indictment in absentia for high-profile
crimes to get around an upcoming statute of limitations deadline. One
example is the skyjacking of Northwest Orient Airlines Flight 305 by
D.B. Cooper in 1971. The identity of D. B. Cooper remains unknown to
this day, and he was indicted under the name "John Doe, aka Dan
Crimes considered heinous by society have no statute of limitations.
Although there is usually no statute of limitations for murder
(particularly first-degree murder), judges have been known to dismiss
murder charges in cold cases if they feel the delay violates the
defendant's right to a speedy trial. For example, waiting many
years for an alibi witness to die before commencing a murder trial
would be unconstitutional. In 2003, the
U.S. Supreme Court
U.S. Supreme Court in Stogner
California ruled that the retroactive extension of the statute of
limitations for sexual offenses committed against minors was an
unconstitutional ex post facto law.
No statute of limitations
U.S. jurisdictions recognize exceptions to statutes of limitation that
may allow for the prosecution of a crime or civil lawsuit even after
the statute of limitations would otherwise have expired.
Fraud upon the court
When an officer of the court is found to have fraudulently presented
facts to impair the court's impartial performance of its legal task,
the act (known as fraud upon the court) is not subject to a statute of
limitation. Officers of the court include lawyers, judges, referees,
legal guardians, parenting-time expeditors, mediators, evaluators,
administrators, special appointees and any others whose influence is
part of the judicial mechanism. Fraud upon the court has been defined
by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals to "embrace that species of fraud
which does, or attempts to, defile the court itself, or is a fraud
perpetrated by officers of the court so that the judicial machinery
cannot perform in the usual manner its impartial task of adjudging
cases that are presented for adjudication". In Bulloch v. United
States, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled: "Fraud upon the court
is fraud which is directed to the judicial machinery itself and is not
fraud between the parties or fraudulent documents, false statements or
perjury ... It is where the court or a member is corrupted or
function—thus where the impartial functions of the court have been
In tort law, if a defendant commits a series of illegal acts against
another person (or in criminal law if someone commits a continuing
crime) the limitation period may begin to run from the last act in the
series. In the 8th Circuit case of Treanor v. MCI Telecommunications,
Inc., the court explained that the continuing-violations doctrine
"tolls [freezes] the statute of limitations in situations where a
continuing pattern forms due to [illegal] acts occurring over a period
of time, as long as at least one incident ... occurred within the
limitations period." Whether the continuing-violations doctrine
applies to a particular violation is subject to judicial discretion;
it was ruled to apply to copyright infringement in Taylor v. Meirick
(712 F.2d 1112, 1119; 7th Cir. 1983) but not in Stone v. Williams (970
F.2d 1043, 1049–50; 2d Cir. 1992).
Under the U.S.
Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), desertion has
no statute of limitations.
Wikiquote has quotations related to: Statute of limitations
Limitation Act 1980
Limitation Act 1980 (England and Wales)
Nullum tempus occurrit regi
Statute of Limitations in Ireland
Limitation Periods in the UK
Statute of repose
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