Statutes of Limitations in a Nutshell
At some point, what's past should be past. That's the idea of a statute of limitations. A statute of limitations is a law that bars a prosecutor from bringing a criminal charge after a certain amount of time passes. If the crime happened too long ago, beyond the statutory time, then the law generally bars a criminal charge based on the crime. The statute names the amount of time. Generally, the worse the crime, the longer the prosecutor has to bring a criminal charge. Once the prosecutor files the criminal charge, the statutory period stops running. The prosecutor's filing satisfies the statute of limitations, no matter how long it takes the court to decide the criminal case. In other words, dragging out the criminal case won't eventually get the case barred by the statute of limitations. The statute of limitations affects how soon the prosecutor must file the charge, not how quickly the court must resolve a charge once the prosecutor files it. Know your Texas DWI rights. Retain premier Texas DWI Specialist attorney Doug Murphy for your aggressive and effective DWI defense, including to raise the statute of limitations.
Specific Texas Statutes of Limitations
Texas law has specific statutory periods within which the prosecutor must file charges for many different specific crimes. Texas's statutes of limitations do not list every Texas crime. Texas's statutes of limitations do not, for instance, list the several DWI crimes. Instead, some Texas crimes, including DWI crimes, fall into general statutes of limitations. But Texas has these statutes for these specific crimes:
- no time limit within which to file charges for murder, manslaughter, certain sexual assaults, indecency with a child, and leaving the scene of an accident that caused death, as provided in Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Article 12.01(1);
- ten years within which to file charges for arson, deliberately injuring an elderly or disabled person, trafficking, and compelling prostitution, as provided in Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Article 12.01(2);
- seven years within which to file charges for felony tax evasion, money laundering, credit card abuse, child exploitation, bigamy, and healthcare fraud, as provided in Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Article 12.01(3); and
- five years within which to file charges for robbery, theft, child endangerment, and insurance fraud, as provided in Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Article 12.01(4).
Texas's DWI Statute of Limitations
Although Texas doesn't have a statute of limitations that applies specifically to DWI charges, Texas does have catch-all statutes of limitations into which DWI crimes fall. Texas statutes of limitations state the time within which a prosecutor must bring a misdemeanor charge or felony charge that doesn't fall within the specific periods for specific crimes. Under Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Article 12.02, the statute of limitations for misdemeanor charges in Texas is generally two years. Under Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Article 12.01(8), the statute of limitations for felony charges in Texas is generally three years. Texas DWI charges can be either misdemeanor charges or felony charges, depending on things like the number of prior DWI convictions and whether anyone suffered injury or death related to the DWI. In Texas, a first DWI or second DWI is generally a misdemeanor. But in Texas, a third DWI or fourth or subsequent DWI is generally a felony. Other Texas felony DWIs include DWI with a child passenger, intoxication assault, and intoxication manslaughter. Texas's statute of limitations for a misdemeanor DWI charge is two years, while Texas's statute of limitations for a felony DWI charge is three years.
What Starts the Period Running
Under Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Article 12.01 and the related statutes of limitations, the statutory period generally begins to run “from the date of the commission of the offense….” That statutory language means that the statutory period for a DWI offense generally begins to run when the DWI occurs, when all the elements of the crime are present. If, for instance, the drunk driving occurred on New Year's Eve, and the drunk driving was a first-offense misdemeanor under Texas law, then the prosecutor would have two years from that date within which to file the misdemeanor charge. If the drunk driving was instead a third-offense felony under Texas law, intoxication assault involving the injury of a person in the DWI accident, or intoxication manslaughter involving the death of a person in the DWI accident, then the prosecutor would have three years from that date within which to file.
What Happens After the Statutory Period Passes
After the statutory period passes without a criminal charge, the statute of limitations generally bars the prosecutor from bringing the charge. You could still face a DWI charge after the statutory period passes. Just because the statutory period passes doesn't mean you won't see a prosecutor pursue a DWI charge. But if the prosecutor goes ahead and files a DWI charge that the Texas statute of limitations bars, the court should dismiss the DWI charge. Your Texas DWI Specialist attorney should know the statute of limitations, plead the statute of limitations as a defense to the DWI charge, and file a motion with the court to dismiss the DWI charge. The court would ordinarily then grant that motion. You may face a time-barred charge anyway, but if you've retained Texas DWI Specialist attorney Doug Murphy, then the court may well grant attorney Murphy's motion to dismiss the criminal charge.
A Statute of Limitations Is Not Expungement
A statute of limitation is not the same thing as sealing a DWI record or expunging a DWI conviction. If you've already suffered a DWI conviction, the statute of limitations won't help you. A statute of limitations does not remove a DWI conviction from your criminal record. The statute of limitations only bars a criminal charge. It doesn't remove a conviction. Texas law does permit sealing a DWI record or expunging a DWI conviction in certain circumstances. Clearing your criminal record of a DWI conviction can make an enormous difference in your life. You may be able to avoid losing a job, career, professional license, security clearance, honor or award, or some other benefit of great value to you, if you qualify to get your DWI conviction expunged and you take prompt action to do so. Retain a Texas DWI Specialist attorney to review your prior DWI conviction for expungement. Just don't expect any help from a statute of limitations.
Why Prosecutors Delay DWI Charges
Prosecutors don't always charge DWI and other crimes with the first evidence giving them a factual and legal basis to do so. Just because someone suffers a DWI stop or even a DWI arrest doesn't mean that charges are sure to swiftly follow. DWI charges often do get filed promptly, within hours or days of the DWI arrest. One could expect a prompt DWI charge in the usual case of a DWI arrest. But prosecutors also sometimes delay a DWI charge for various reasons. You may not know the reasons for prosecutor delay. Prosecutors certainly don't advertise their thinking about imminent criminal charges. But your Texas DWI Specialist attorney can often deduce from the circumstances what is probably going on. The reasons for a prosecutor's delay can include:
- the prosecutor's time and available prosecutorial resources, whether due to illness, vacations, personal time off, or retirements in the prosecutor's office, budgetary constraints, or similar causes;
- strategic initiatives within the prosecutor's office, such as to focus on violent crimes, domestic crimes, crimes involving minors, or other crimes of special local concern;
- a large number of DWI arrests in a special holiday, weekend, or other enforcement action, requiring substantial processing and extra personnel, resulting in backlogs;
- a large number of arrests for other crimes in a special enforcement action, requiring substantial processing and extra resources, drawing resources away from ordinary processing of DWI cases;
- delays awaiting laboratory results from blood-alcohol testing because of delayed submission of specimens or laboratory problems with testing, shortages in supplies, lack of personnel, and budget constraints;
- the loss, mistake, or misplacement of evidence, or lab errors, requiring investigation, recovery, and further processing to ensure its available use in the criminal proceeding;
- questions over the credibility of officers, credibility of witnesses, or other quality or quantity of evidence, giving the prosecutor pause in believing that the prosecution can prove the charge beyond a reasonable doubt;
- questions over the constitutionality of the DWI arrest, giving the prosecutor reason to believe that the court might throw out an otherwise provable charge; and
- questions over the DWI suspect's mental or physical condition and ability to face a DWI charge and proceeding, such as if the DWI suspect suffered serious injury and long-term hospitalization relating to the event.
What Not to Do While Awaiting DWI Charges
As the foregoing reasons suggest, you have little direct control over a prosecutor's delay in bringing DWI charges. You'd surely prefer that the prosecutor never bring a DWI charge. But the reasons for delay listed above are ordinarily well beyond your control. You generally can't create delays or promote reasons for delay, to push your DWI matter beyond the statute of limitations. You certainly shouldn't, for instance, threaten witnesses or otherwise obstruct justice. To obstruct justice is generally to take active steps to frustrate the government's investigation and prosecution of crime. Obstructing justice could result in swift attention from the police and prosecutor, and additional criminal charges. If the prosecutor hasn't filed DWI charges yet, circumstances may be working in your favor on their own. Don't do anything to get the prosecutor's attention. Certainly, don't commit another noteworthy or notorious crime, the result of which would be to face a bevy of charges including the prior DWI charge. Sometimes, the best strategy is to let sleeping dogs lie.
What to Do While Awaiting DWI Charges
Despite the warnings not to call attention to yourself while DWI charges appear to be imminent, you do have things you can and should do if you believe that DWI charges are probably coming. You have productive things you can do before a DWI charge. First, retain a Texas DWI Specialist attorney to review your matter and circumstances. Put your time and effort into choosing the right DWI attorney, including interviewing your DWI attorney. Your Texas DWI Specialist attorney may find that your case is one of those unusual few cases where timely and diplomatic communication with the prosecutor could forestall the DWI charge. When you retain a Texas DWI Specialist to review your DWI matter, that attorney may find that you have:
- additional evidence proving the violation of your constitutional rights;
- additional evidence undermining the credibility of witnesses against you;
- additional evidence undermining the reliability of test results;
- compelling personal circumstances warranting caution in bringing charges;
- compelling family circumstances against pursuing charges.
Retain a Texas DWI Specialist Attorney
The one best thing you can do is to retain a premier Texas DWI Specialist attorney to defend the DWI charge. The best way to avoid the severe collateral consequences that can come with a DWI conviction is to beat the DWI charge. If you or someone you love faces a DWI charge, then retain premier Texas DWI Specialist attorney Doug Murphy for your aggressive and effective DWI defense. Let attorney Murphy help you defend and defeat your DWI charge to avoid the enormous potential costs. Attorney Murphy's outstanding professional reputation enables him to lecture nationwide on DWI defense and other criminal charges and procedures. Other lawyers voted attorney Doug Murphy Best Lawyers in America's 2021 Lawyer of the Year. Attorney Murphy is one of only two Texas lawyers holding both Criminal Law Certification and DWI Board Certification. Contact Doug Murphy Law Firm online or at (713) 229-8333 today for expert DWI defense.