Statute of Limitations: Federal Legislations

A statute of limitations is a law that creates a time limit for filing a legal claim. For the most part, the federal government stays out of civil law, allowing states to create their own laws for personal injury and other civil lawsuits instead. However, there are federal legislations for the criminal side of a case.

Civil vs. Criminal Statutes of Limitations

There are two different sectors of law: criminal and civil. The criminal justice system tries defendants for alleged legal violations, such as sexual assault. The goal of criminal law is to identify lawbreakers and hold them accountable, as well as to punish them in the hopes that they do not repeat similar crimes in the future.

The civil justice system is geared toward victims. It is an opportunity for victims who are injured by the careless, reckless, illegal or unethical acts of others to seek justice in the form of financial compensation from the at-fault party. The goal of a civil claim is to make the victim whole again through financial compensation that will restore the victim to the financial state that he or she would have been in were it not for the defendant’s actions.

It is important to understand the difference between a criminal and civil statute of limitations. If you wish to cooperate with a criminal case against a suspect for sexually abusing or assaulting you, look at the criminal statute of limitations. This is the time limit by which the District Attorney’s office or prosecutor must file criminal charges against the person who assaulted you.

If you wish to file a lawsuit for financial compensation for the damages you suffered because of sexual abuse or assault, pay attention to the civil statute of limitations. This is your deadline for bringing an injury lawsuit. You or your attorney must fill out the required claims paperwork and submit it to the civil courthouse in the county where you live, where the defendant lives or where the accident took place before your time limit expires.

Federal vs. State Statutes of Limitations

There is also an important difference between federal and state statutes of limitations. In a criminal case, a federal statute of limitations would only apply if the defendant was being accused of a federal crime. According to 18 USC 3282, the general statute of limitations on a felony federal crime is five years from the date of the alleged law violation. If the defendant is accused of breaking a state law, on the other hand, the state’s criminal statute of limitations would apply.

In a civil case, it is rare to encounter federal legislations that will change your time limit to file a lawsuit against a sexual predator or assailant. For the most part, the federal government leaves deadlines for filing civil lawsuits to the state. In California, for example, most plaintiffs have either 10 years from the date of the last act or attempted act of sexual assault to file if they were over the age of 18 at the time of the assault or until age 40 to file a case involving child sexual abuse.

Why Is it Important to Know Your Statute of Limitations?

Courthouses take statutes of limitations very seriously. These are strict laws that must be obeyed by the person or party attempting to file a claim. With few exceptions, if a filing party misses the statute of limitations for his or her type of claim, the courts will bar the lawsuit, meaning they will not allow it to proceed.

Contact an attorney about a potential claim before it is too late. Your deadline will vary based on the laws in your state, as well as factors that are specific to your claim, such as the age you were at the time of the assault. Consult with an experienced sexual assault lawyer for more information.