The Statute of Limitations: A Closer Look at “Unreasonable Delay”

In Florida, prosecutors have a specific amount of time in which to start the prosecution of their cases. For example, currently, cases involving second and third-degree felonies must be started within three years of when the offense was committed, while cases involving first-degree misdemeanors must be started within two years and second-degree misdemeanors must be started within one year.

More specifically, offenses are committed either when each element of the offense has taken place or, in situations involving a legislative purpose prohibiting a continuous course of conduct, at the time the course of conduct (or the defendant’s involvement with such conduct) has ended.

A Look at Unreasonable Delay

Under Florida’s statute of limitations, which is found in Florida Statute Section 775.15, the prosecutor is required to start his or her case without “unreasonable delay.” But what does that mean, exactly? First of all, the state has to find and arrest the individual whom they wish to prosecute, which may or may not happen quickly.

Most Sarasota criminal defense attorneys will tell you that criminal (and civil) cases can be dismissed if the person bringing the case doesn’t attempt to serve the individual being sued. That said, it is not unusual for defense attorneys to be able to demonstrate the lack of effort the state has made to locate the targeted defendant. But are there any consequences if the state makes the arrest after the statute of limitations has lapsed?

In general, the statute of limitation does not require the state to “find” individuals — they are only required to make “reasonable efforts” to do so. However, many people do not realize that if the defendant is found to have left the state, any unreasonable delays will be forgiven and the statute will not apply.

Robinson v. State

A prime example of this issue arose in the Florida case of Robinson v. State. Three years had passed and Robinson still had not been arrested; however, when he was ultimately found, he claimed that his arrest constituted “unreasonable delay” and accordingly, his case should be dismissed.

Of course, the prosecution argued that Robinson had left Florida for three years, therefore the time limit in which to locate him was extended under the law. In response, Robinson argued that the state failed to adequately search for him and unreasonably delayed the start of the case — which should not be awarded with an extension of time since they had no proof of their search efforts.

Nevertheless, the appellate court hearing the case sided with the state, noting that the time Robinson spent out of state tolled the three-year requirement.

A Note About Tolling the Statute

The statute of limitations in Florida is tolled (or stops running) if a defendant is out of state for a continuous period of time or has no identifiable home or workplace in Florida. The prosecution’s failure to extradite a defendant in another state will not be deemed unreasonable delay. That said, the statute is tolled during that time.

If you have been charged and you have questions about the timeliness of your case, call the Fowler Law Group at (941) 900-3100 today to learn more about your legal rights and options.

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