Are There Time Limits for Criminal Prosecutions in Nevada?

For many criminal offenses, there is a time limit for criminal prosecution in Nevada.  If the time limit expires, the prosecutor can no longer pursue the charges.  The length of the period varies, depending on the specific offense. 

If you face charges on a Nevada criminal offense, consulting an experienced criminal defense attorney is the best way to defend against the charge.  Your attorney will assess all aspects of your case, including whether the applicable time limitation might prohibit prosecution.

What Is a Statute of Limitations?

Across all jurisdictions, the legal term statute of limitations applies to legislatively imposed time limits for pursuing legal actions.  Although the term “statute” usually refers to a specific law, the term “statute of limitations” is generic.  It describes the actual limitation, rather than referring to a specific law. 

A series of sections in Nevada law establish different statutes of limitations (time limits) for commencement of criminal prosecution for violations of specific laws.   Those sections also include provisions that make exceptions or extend the time limit.  If circumstances suspend the running of the time limit, those circumstances toll the statute of limitations.  If the time limit is “tolled,” the available time for prosecuting the offense is extended.

Time Limits for Criminal Prosecution in Nevada

A statute of limitations protects a defendant from facing prosecution long after an event occurs.  The purpose is to avoid situations where evidence disappears or deteriorates or witness testimony becomes unavailable or unreliable, making it more difficult to defend against the charges. The existence of the time limitation furthers the overall goal of requiring expeditious prosecution for a crime.

Nevada Offenses With No Statute of Limitations

The seriousness of some offenses outweighs the considerations favoring prompt prosecution.  In Nevada and many other jurisdictions, there is no statute of limitations on prosecution for the crime of murder.  That is the reason you often hear news reports about a prosecutor charging a defendant with murder several decades after the offense occurred.

In addition, there is no time limitation for prosecuting acts of terrorism or attempted terrorism that violate Nevada state law. 

Time Limitations for Prosecuting Felony Charges

Statutes of limitations for felonies fall into several different categories.  The longest applies to sexual assault (rape), which has a time limitation of twenty (20) years.

A four (4) year time limitation applies to the following felony offenses:

  • Theft
  • Robbery
  • Burglary
  • Forgery
  • Arson
  • Sex trafficking
  • Securities fraud
  • Deceptive trade practices
  • Business fraud involving multiple transactions

A statute of limitations of three (3) years applies to all other felonies not specifically listed above.

Statutes of Limitations for Misdemeanors

The time limitation for prosecuting a gross misdemeanor is two (2) years.  The statute of limitations for all other misdemeanors is one (1) year.

When Does the Time Calculation Start?

Generally, the statute of limitations is calculated beginning on the date of commission of the act that constitutes the offense.  In most cases, the prosecution satisfies the time limit requirement by filing an information or complaint to initiate the case.

There are exceptions for calculating the time limitation, as follows:

  • For any offense committed in a secret manner, calculation of the time does not begin until the offense is discovered, unless a longer period is available under a different law.
  • Charges for sexual abuse of a child or sex trafficking of a child are governed by longer periods related to the age of the victim.
  • Certain offenses involving use of personal identifying information committed against a victim under the age of eighteen (18) are subject to a four (4) year time limitation that begins after discovery of the offense or after the victim reasonably should have discovered the offense.
  • If a victim of kidnapping or attempted murder or someone acting on behalf of the victim files a written report with law enforcement about the offense, the time limitation is extended by five (5) years.
  • If a victim of a sexual assault or sex trafficking or someone acting on behalf of the victim files a written report with law enforcement within the time period, there is no time limitation on commencing the prosecution.
  • If a victim of a sexual assault or sex trafficking is under a disability during the limitation period, and a report is not filed with law enforcement as described above, the period of disability is excluded when calculating the time period.

What Happens When the Prosecution Time Limitation Expires?

After the statute of limitations expires, the prosecutor cannot pursue a case.  If the prosecutor does file a case, the court will dismiss it. 

Because of the exceptions provided, the statute of limitations for an offense can be extended for a long period in some cases.  That is true especially for sexual assault (rape) charges.

If you face charges involving statute of limitations issues, it is essential to have a skillful criminal defense attorney represent you.  Application of the laws to specific circumstances and facts can be extremely complicated.

Schedule a Free Consultation With An Experienced Las Vegas Criminal Defense Attorney

Las Vegas attorney Joseph Gersten helps clients facing federal or state criminal charges.  He aggressively defends against all charges, including cases that raise an issue related to the time limitation for criminal prosecution in Nevada.

The Gersten Law Firm assists Nevada and out-of-state residents with all types of criminal matters arising in Las Vegas, Henderson, and elsewhere in Clark County.  Call 702.857.8777 or complete our online form to schedule an appointment.  Your initial consultation is free-of-charge.