Scholars and commentators have identified various policy arguments supporting and opposing criminal statutes of limitations. Supporters of criminal statutes of limitations argue the following:

  • There is less need for a criminal sanction against a person who demonstrates rehabilitation by remaining law-abiding for some time.6
  • In the interest of fairness, a prosecution should be based on recent—and more reliable—evidence.7
  • Statutes of limitations encourage law enforcement and prosecutors to act in a timely fashion in apprehending and bringing wrongdoers to justice.8
  • Statutes of limitations grant repose (closure) to a wrongdoer, which may be appropriate when a focus on the past does not serve current interests.9
  • “[S]tatutes of limitations foster…a more stable and forward-looking society.”10 As time goes by, society’s interest in retribution may lessen, and it is more appropriate to focus the state’s attention on dealing with recent criminal activity.

Opponents of criminal statute of limitations argue the following:

  • The practical realities of the criminal justice system, such as rules of evidence to prevent admission of unreliable evidence, will prevent prosecution and/or convictions on evidence that is stale and possibly unreliable.11
  • For some crimes, society’s interest in retribution and justice will exceed the time period provided in the statute of limitations.12
  • If the certainty of punishment is reduced, the law does not effectively deter an individual from crime.13
  • Even if an individual offender is reformed, society may still have an interest in punishment and general deterrence of crime.14

This and any related posts have been adopted from the Minnesota House of Representatives Research Department’s Information Brief, Criminal Statutes of Limitations, written by legislative analyst Rebecca Pirius.

This post is part of a series of posts on Criminal Statutes of Limitations in Minnesota.

7 See Adlestein, Alan L., Conflict of the Criminal Statute of Limitations with Lesser Offenses at Trial, 37 William and Mary L. Rev. 199, 262 (1995); see also Note, Barrier to Prosecution, supra note 5, at 632 (observing that, “prosecution [should] be based on evidence that is reasonably fresh and therefore more trustworthy than evidence with a probative value which has grown weaker as man’s ability to remember has become impaired”); 21 Am. Jur. 2d § 291 (“Statutes of limitations on criminal prosecutions are designed to protect individuals from having to defend themselves against charges when the basic facts may become obscured by the passage of time….”).

8 See Adlestein, supra note 8, at 262; see also Note, Barrier to Prosecution, supra note 5, at 633 (“It has been suggested that statutes of limitations also aid the state in checking upon its officials by requiring vigilance on their part in discovering law-violators and bringing them to justice as speedily as possible”).

9 See ROBINSON, supra note 1, at 466.

10 Id. (citing Model Penal Code § 1.07, Comment 16 (tent. Draft No. 5, 1956)). 11 ROBINSON, supra note 1, at 466.

12 See ROBINSON, supra note 1, at 465; see also Note, Barrier to Prosecution, supra note 5, at 634 (suggesting that an alternative to limitation statutes would be to grant discretion to the prosecutor to prohibit or discontinue prosecution if the interest of justice so required, thus allowing prosecution of some individuals who otherwise would have been safe from prosecution due to the expiration of the statutory period).

13 See Note, Barrier to Prosecution, supra note 5, at 634.

14 See ROBINSON, supra note 1, at 466.