It's been many years since you committed a theft that is still fresh in your memory. You worry that it could come back to haunt you. You've changed your ways since you committed the crime so long ago, and you don't want it to resurface and hurt your professional career.
You feel you've paid back the debt time and time again by supporting charities and others who need help. There's no easy way to make things right, and speaking out about what you did could get you into deep trouble with the law.
The reality is that you may not have to worry. If you committed a crime long ago, there may be no basis for a claim against you at this point. Did you know that the statute of limitations could protect you from prosecution if too much time has passed? It's true, and it's something to understand if you have a checkered past.
If you committed a crime that is potentially a misdemeanor, the statute of limitations protects you after two years have passed. The catch is that you must have been living in the state during that time and that no complaints can be pending during that time. If no one has noticed a crime within the two-year limit, you'll be unable to be prosecuted for it in the future.
With felonies, there is a longer time limit. For example, if you commit fraud at a major organization, you may have to wait up to ten years for the statute of limitations to pass. At that point, you'll likely no longer face the risk of charges, even if the crime is discovered in the future.
Why is there a statute of limitations on past criminal acts?
The reason that the statute of limitations is in place to protect those who have committed crimes is twofold. First, as time passes, witnesses to crimes begin to lose their memories of what occurred, making it too easy for them to be manipulated or steered toward what the prosecution wants them to say. Secondly, limiting the length of time someone can be prosecuted for a crime makes it so he or she doesn't have to worry about it coming up in the future and ruining his or her life after many years have passed.
If a statute of limitations is in place and you're being accused, it's possible to have the case dropped. An attorney needs to help you prove that the statute of limitations takes away the prosecution's right to proceed.