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What Is a Statute of Limitations?

A statute of limitations is a law imposing a set timeline for the State to begin prosecution of a crime. If the prosecutor does not pursue a case within the prescribed deadline, it may be dismissed.

Statutes of limitations vary under state and federal laws, and they differ depending on the nature of the offense. Under R.I. General Laws § 12-12-17, some matters can be prosecuted within 3 or 10 years after the alleged violation. And in some circumstances, the prosecution can begin at any time – no matter how long in the past the alleged crime occurred.

Why Have Statutes of Limitations?

In the American criminal justice system, anyone accused of an offense has the right to a fair trial. Statutes of limitations are a way to protect that right.

Here's how: Suppose someone stole merchandise from a store. A fingerprint was left at the scene, and an eyewitness caught a glimpse of the alleged shoplifter. However, the person suspected of the offense was never apprehended.

Five years pass, and law enforcement officials believe they caught the person who committed the theft. But in that time, the print found at the scene was lost, and the eyewitness's memory of the incident is fuzzy.

Now, if the matter is pursued, the case could hinge on degraded evidence, which would not be fair to the defendant and would violate their constitutional rights.

What Are Rhode Island's Statutes of Limitations?

In Rhode Island, depending on the alleged offense, the State must bring a case within one of three deadlines.

For the following crimes, prosecution can begin at any time:

  • Treason against the State;
  • Homicide;
  • Arson;
  • First-, second-, and third-degree arson;
  • Burglary;
  • Counterfeiting;
  • Forgery;
  • Robbery;
  • Rape;
  • First-degree sexual assault;
  • First- and second-degree child molestation sexual assault;
  • Bigamy
  • Manufacturing, selling, distributing, or possession with the intent to manufacture, sell, or distribute drugs
  • Any offense with a maximum penalty of life in prison

The following offenses must be prosecuted within 10 years:

  • Receiving stolen goods;
  • Embezzlement and fraudulent conversion;
  • Obtaining property by false pretenses or personation;
  • Embezzlement by a bank officer or employee;
  • Fraudulent conversion by agent or factor;
  • Obtaining a signature by false pretenses;
  • Bribery;
  • Giving false document to an agent, employee, or public official;
  • Threats and extortion;
  • RICO;
  • Racketeer violence;
  • Antitrust law;
  • Exploitation of an elder;
  • Unlawful appropriation;
  • False financial statement to obtain a loan or credit;
  • Bank fraud;
  • Mortgage fraud

For crimes other than those listed above, the State can begin prosecution within 3 years.

Get Serious Defense on Your Side

If you've been charged with a criminal offense in Rhode Island, reach out to the Law Office of Thomas C. Thomasian, Esq. We'll ensure your rights are protected and will fight toward a favorable outcome on your behalf.

Schedule a free consultation by calling (401) 312-4385 or submitting an online contact form.