Pasco County - Statute Of Limitations

In Florida, the State Attorney’s Office has a certain period of time to file formal charges against you after your arrest. These limitations could provide a defense to your case in various circumstances and a Pasco County Criminal Defense Attorney should be able to spot this issue. Florida Statutes §775.15 sets out some general requirements for when a prosecution must commence. Generally speaking they are:

  • four years to file a first degree felony;
  • three years to file a second or third degree felony;
  • two years to file a first degree misdemeanor;
  • one year to file a second degree misdemeanor, and;
  • No time limit to file a capital felony, life felony, or felony that resulted in death. (these include most sex crimes)

However, there are sometimes issues with using the Statute of Limitations as a defense. For example, the Statute of Limitations begins to run when a prosecution has “commenced”. For purposes of defending your case, prosecution “commences” on the day you were arrested. However, if you have not been arrested, prosecution commences when an indictment or information is filed “provided the capias, summons or other process issued on such indictment or information is executed without unreasonable delay.” (for an explanation of the difference between an arrest and the filing of a formal charge click here).

If you were never arrested, primarily in a felony case, once a charge is filed, a warrant will be issued for your arrest. The Law says that, the police must not unreasonably delay coming out to arrest you. When considering whether a delay was unreasonable, the Court will consider:

  • Inability to locate the defendant after diligent search
  • Defendant’s absence from the State

So if you committed a crime, didn’t know it (or didn’t get caught), then moved out of State the next week, the police will be required to go out to your house, or last known address, and try to arrest you or serve you with other process. They should be making note of their attempts on the warrant itself to show proof that the search was diligent. If they can’t find you, a diligent search would also require them to ascertain if you have left the State. They could do this very simply by looking up your driver’s license. If you are still located at the address they just went to, diligence would require something more than one trip to your house to attempt contact.

The point is this, if the State can show that you left the State in order to avoid being arrested and they did everything in their power to diligently search for you and arrest you – but couldn’t because you left the State - the the time for prosecuting you will be tolled. (tolled means stopped). That essentially means that the clock stops clicking for your Statute of Limitations defense until the State is actually able to get a hold of you and bring you back.

There are other issues an experienced Pasco County Criminal Attorney can spot in your case to assist your defense. For example, were you in State the whole time but simply changed addresses? Did you move to another county? Could they have arrested you with a more diligent search since you were in State? The answer to these questions could provide a defense and possibly be grounds to get your case dismissed.

Let me give you an example of a Statute of Limitations issue that recently came up in one of our cases (we won). Someone sold drugs to an undercover cop in 2002. The person wasn’t arrested at the time, but a warrant was issued for the person about one year later, in 2003. Prosecution commenced when the warrant was issued in 2003. This person continued to live in Pasco County for several years and was never arrested. The person later moved to another county in Florida and changed the address on their driver’s license.

Sale of a controlled substance is a 2nd Degree felony, thus the State has 3 years to commence prosecution. The police never attempted to serve the warrant during the time the person was living in Pasco County, nor did they make any attempts to find the person while they were living in another Florida County, which the police easily could have done since this person had a valid Florida driver’s license and had changed the address when they moved. The person contacted Pawuk & Pawuk when they learned of the old Pasco County warrant which happened when the person was going into Canada for a vacation. Daniel Pawuk successfully argued that the Statute of Limitations had run and the police had not made a diligent search, or any attempts, to locate the suspect. Case dismissed.