Pennsylvania Criminal Statute of Limitations Laws
Pennsylvania’s criminal law, like statute of limitations laws in other states, sets limits for how long a prosecutor may wait to file formal criminal charges. There is no time limit to bring charges for serious crimes such as murder, but lesser offenses have between a 2- and 12-year statute of limitations, depending on the specific offense. The deadline for filing misdemeanor charges, for instance, is 2 years. The statute of limitations for official misconduct (i.e. a politician or someone in public office) is 8 years.
The general purpose of statutes of limitation is to ensure that criminal convictions occur only upon evidence that has not deteriorated with time. Both physical evidence (like fingerprints) and testimonial evidence (like memory and eyewitnesses) can deteriorate or be lost over time, therefore, time is of the essence in criminal cases.
Most statutes of limitation generally require the alleged criminal to remain in the state and visible, seeming to necessitate that the criminal remain “catchable” while the clock is running on the charge. If authorities fail to discover a criminal living in the open within a specified amount of time, it is thought that the state has determined the criminal should be able to live free from the possibility of prosecution after that point. Generally, if the criminal is a fugitive, out of the state in which the crime occurred, or otherwise living in hiding, this tolls, or suspends, the statute. However, once the criminal reenters the state the statute resumes running. Not all crimes are governed by statutes of limitation (murder, for example, has none), and the limitation periods generally vary depending on the seriousness of the crime.