If you are arrested for a misdemeanor crime in Arizona, the prosecutor must bring criminal charges against you within a specific time limit.
This time limit comes from the Arizona statute of limitations on misdemeanors. If the State fails to bring the charges in the period specified by the statute of limitations, then you may have an absolute defense against prosecution for that crime. Even if you are guilty.
What is a Statute of Limitations?
A statute of limitations provides a time limit for criminal charges.
The idea behind a statute of limitations is that the government should not be able to dangle criminal charges over somebody’s head indefinitely. Ultimately, they must choose to either file them or lose the right to do so altogether. This way, people do not have to worry about criminal charges being brought for crimes that happened decades ago.
Different types of crimes have different time limits that apply. More serious crimes, such as felonies, have a longer statute of limitations period (7 years in Arizona). The most serious crimes, such as murder, do not have any statute of limitations period at all. But lesser crimes, such as misdemeanors, have shorter statutes of limitations.
The Arizona Statute of Limitations
The law defining the different time limits to bring criminal charges is literally defined by a statute. A statute is any law that is passed by the Arizona legislature. The Arizona law that defines the statute of limitations is ARS 13-107.
Can the Time Limits in the Statute of Limitations be Extended?
In determining how long the state has to file misdemeanor charges, it is often as simple as knowing when the alleged crime occurred and then counting down the days. If the crime occurred less than a year ago, the state still has time to file charges.
But sometimes the state can file charges even if the crime occurred over a year ago. One reason for this is that the statute of limitations begin to toll “after actual discovery” of the crime by the State or when the crime should have been discovered “with the exercise of reasonable diligence.”
In other words, if the State did not know that a misdemeanor crime occurred and had no way of reasonably knowing that it occurred, the statute of limitations does not yet begin to toll.
For example, let’s assume misdemeanor criminal damage occurred on January 1st when somebody threw a rock through the window of a house. But let’s say the owner of the home was out of town and did not see the broken window or report it to the police until January 7th. In this case, the statute of limitations may not have begun to run until January 7th, when the crime was actually discovered.
For some complex crimes, the tolling of the statute of limitations (i.e., when the time limits start) can be an issue. But thankfully, because most misdemeanor cases are relatively simple compared to higher-level crimes, the statute of limitations will usually start to run the day that the crime occurred (although, of course, exceptions will sometimes apply).
The Time Limits Pause When the Defendant is Out of State
According to ARS 13-107, the period of limitations does not run “during any time when the accused is absent from the state or has no reasonably ascertainable place of abode within the state.”
Let’s say a person is visiting Arizona on business. He goes to a bar in Old Town Scottsdale and starts to get rowdy. The bartender tells him to leave, but he refuses and then the police are called to get him out of the bar. He gets arrested for criminal trespassing but for some reason criminal charges are not filed that night. The man then leaves and goes back to his home state. Assuming the person has no residence in Arizona, the statute of limitations does not run for the time that he is out of state. Technically, 15 years could pass, and the man could be charged with the crime when he finally comes back to Arizona.
The Statute of Limitations’ Implication for Misdemeanor DUI Charges
Usually, a person will receive a ticket from the police and an order to appear in court the day that they are arrested for a misdemeanor crime. One common crime in which this may not happen, however, is for DUIs. In these situations, the statute of limitations may become an issue. This is because there are different levels of misdemeanor DUIs depending on the driver’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC).
If a DUI suspect is arrested for DUI and the police choose to conduct a blood draw to test the driver’s BAC, they will usually send the blood to a crime lab to be analyzed. This process can take months, especially if the crime lab is backed up. But if the State wants to pursue the misdemeanor DUI charge, they must bring the case within one year. If there is a delay in getting the blood which lasts over a year, then that will not usually be an excuse for the court to extend the statute of limitations, and the State will lose its ability to bring the DUI charge.