Two Ways The Statute Of Limitations For Drug Crimes May Be Extended

Posted on: 31 March 2016


The majority of states and the federal government limit the amount of time prosecutors have to bring charges against defendants for drug crimes. Called the statute of limitations, this time frame is typically determined by whether the crime was a felony or misdemeanor. In general, once the expiration date for the crime has passed, you can't be prosecuted for it. However, there are two instances when the statute of limitations may be postponed or reset. Here's what you need to know about this issue.

Relocating Pauses the Clock

The clock for the statute of limitations typically starts when the crime occurs. In Alabama, for instance, possessing marijuana for personal use is a misdemeanor. The state has 12 months from the date of the possession to prosecute you for it; otherwise, it loses the right to do so.

It can get tricky trying to determine when the clock starts in crimes that occur over a long period of time (e.g. drug trafficking), but one thing that can pause the clock is the person leaving the state where the crime was committed. For instance, the 12-month countdown stops the day you leave Alabama and starts up again the day you return, even if that date is years later.

To effectively use the statute of limitations defense when charges are brought against you, you must've remained in the state for the entire time period the limitation is valid.

DNA Evidence Breaks the Clock

Federal drug crimes also have a statute of limitations. However, a federal law now allows the government to prosecute defendants after the statute of limitations has expired if DNA testing connects them to the relevant cases. For example, DEA agents conduct a drug bust, but one of the people gets away after a gun battle. However, a year after the associated statute of limitations expire, a DNA test of blood left at the scene connects a person to the crime. The government can bring charges against the individual based on this new DNA evidence, even though the time limit for prosecuting has passed.

However, the clock only resets. The statute of limitations for federal drug charges is 60 months. The government only gets an additional 60 months from the date the DNA evidence is introduced to bring a case against the individual. If the government fails to do so in that extra time period, it loses the right to prosecute.

Whether you're dealing with the statute of limitations issues at the state level or the federal, it's a good idea to have an attorney by your side that can help you defend against the charges. For more information about this issue, contact a drug charge lawyer. To learn more, speak with someone like Pollack & Ball LLC.