A recent case heard by the Florida Supreme Court addressed the appealability of certain statutes of limitations. Statutes of limitations refer to the time period that someone has to bring a case in court. For criminal matters, the state is responsible for prosecuting certain crimes before a specific deadline that usually starts to elapse from the time the crime was committed. Generally, the more severe the crime, the longer the statute of limitations period. However, some kinds of crimes do not have statutes of limitations, such as murder and other life or capital felonies.
The purpose of statutes of limitations are threefold. First, to motivate the state to bring the charges sooner, as crimes should be prosecuted and the wrongdoer punished as soon as possible. Second, as the passage of time can affect the availability and quality of the evidence, a delay can prejudice the defendant because alibi witnesses may become unavailable. Finally, there is a belief that a defendant should not have to worry forever over a minor crime committed years ago.
Another important aspect of a statute of limitations for criminal charges is that the time does not run when the defendant is out of the state or does not have an ascertainable place to live or work. In other words, the state does not want to give a benefit to potential defendants who are hiding from prosecution. If the state has issued a summons or indictment against a defendant within the applicable period, it will usually suffice if there is no unreasonable delay. The court will look at the state’s attempts to locate the defendant and whether the defendant was actually in the state or not to determine what it “reasonable.”