Welcome to FindLaw's DUI Law series. If you have been charged with a DUI, know someone who has, or just want to know about the law and how to protect your rights during a DUI stop, please come back each week for more information.
If you were pulled over for a DUI, how long can criminal charges hang over your head? If you got arrested for DUI last week, can prosecutors wait until next year to bring charges?
There are time limits on criminal cases, but those limits can vary from state to state and from crime to crime. Here's a look at statutes of limitation for DUI charges.
Statute of Limitations
Criminal statute of limitations laws serve a few purposes. Mainly, the parties want to go to trial with the best available evidence, and witnesses, memories, and physical evidence can fade or be lost over time. In order to have the best evidence at your trial, the government must bring charges within a reasonable amount of time. Statutes of limitation also prevent the government from imprisoning suspects indefinitely or holding criminal charges over a person's head for years or decades.
So how do we decide how long is too long to wait? In the criminal context, limitations laws generally depend on the severity of the crime. For instance, there is normally no statute of limitations on murder, while minor misdemeanors may need to be prosecuted within 30 days.
Limitations of States
The majority of states link their statutes of limitations to the class of crime. North Carolina has no statute of limitations for felonies, and a limit of two years on malicious misdemeanors, while Florida limits most felonies to four years, while misdemeanors must be prosecuted within one or two years. So the statute of limitations on your DUI case may depend on whether it is charged as a misdemeanor or a felony.
In Florida, a DUI is normally a misdemeanor unless it's your third in the past ten years. In North Carolina, your DWI can be a felony if it causes serious injury or death. So while prosecutors may only have a year to bring charges for your DUI if it is a misdemeanor, that time limit could be removed entirely if charged as a felony.
Statutes of limitation vary, and every DUI case is unique. If you've been charged with a DUI you should contact an experienced DUI attorney immediately.