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» Arizona Cases, Arizona Statutes, Procedural Rules » Arizona's Unusual Statute of Limitations

Arizona's Unusual Statute of Limitations

Although Arizona courts have on multiple occasions explained that statutes of limitations are to be construed liberally in favor of the accused and against the prosecution, in practice, that doesn’t make an awful lot of difference. According to at least one Arizona court, our criminal statute of limitations is explicit. Unlike most states’ statutes of limitations, which begin running at the time of the offense, it doesn’t begin to run until the state actually discovers or should have discovered the offense.

The law allows some serious injustice to take place as long as it isn’t the state’s fault. A victim can wait as long as he or she pleases before going to authorities, and as long as there’s no reason the state should have known earlier, charges can go forward. What would stop a victim from waiting until key defense witnesses die before coming forward? Why not wait until the defendant has more to lose and is likely to take a plea?

Also, why not wait until the defendant has more personal assets? A victim could potentially use Arizona’s criminal statute of limitations to extend the time for filing a civil suit based on the same conduct. While a victim would normally have to file a civil claim in a relatively short window of time after being wronged, a special law extends the civil statute of limitations for one year after the final disposition of a criminal proceeding arising from the same conduct. If a victim misses the civil statute of limitations, why not go to the police and get a criminal case started? The victim will then have a year after that’s done to file a civil suit.

Arizona courts claim statutes of limitations are designed primarily to protect the accused from the burden of defending himself or herself against charges of long completed misconduct. If that really is the purpose, it shouldn’t matter whether the delay is caused by the state or the victim.

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