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Is There a Statute of Limitations on Murder in Pennsylvania?

February 03, 2020

By Van Der Veen, Hartshorn, and Levin

Recently, a Pennsylvania man, made headlines when he admitted to killing his wife 40 years ago. The woman, was killed in 1981 after an argument broke out between her and her husband. The case went cold, but earlier this year, the man admitted to killing his wife before dumping her body in the Delaware River. The story has many asking why he would admit to the murder four decades later, and if there is a statute of limitations on this particular crime in Pennsylvania.

How the Statute of Limitations Works in Criminal Cases

Many crimes in Pennsylvania have a statute of limitations. This means that there is only a certain amount of time in which the prosecution can bring criminal charges on a person.

The purpose of the statute of limitations is to ensure that a person is only charged when there is sufficient evidence that has not deteriorated over time. Some types of evidence, such as fingerprints and witness testimony, fades after a certain period of time.

The other purpose of the statute of limitations is to ensure that authorities investigate and bring charges within a reasonable amount of time. This holds true when an alleged criminal remains ‘catchable’ and is living out in the open. The law is there to ensure that no one has potential criminal charges hanging over their head indefinitely.

There is an exception to many statute of limitations. This is when the alleged criminal has fled the state or is living in hiding. This tolls, or stops, the clock on the statute of limitations, and it will resume once the alleged criminal re-enters the state or starts to once again live in the open. Some crimes though, do not have any statute of limitations.

The Statute of Limitations on Murder and Other Crimes

In the recent story, the man was sentenced to 7 1/2 to 15 years in prison, because there is no statute of limitations on murder in Pennsylvania. Other serious felonies, such as voluntary manslaughter, conspiracy to commit murder, vehicular homicide, and felonies connected with first or second degree murder also do not have a statute of limitations.

Other felonies have a statute of limitations between two and eight years, depending on the offense. Major sexual offenses have a statute of limitations of 12 years. When a sexual offense has been committed against a minor, the statute of limitations does not begin until the minor turns 18 years of age.

Misdemeanors have a statute of limitations of two years, while summary offenses, such as disorderly conduct and low-level retail theft, have a statute of limitations of only 30 days.

Our Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Attorneys Can Help With Your Charges

The statute of limitations is one way individuals are protected from being charged by overzealous law enforcement officials. It is also just one of the defenses that can be used to fight those charges, if the statute has expired. At van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim, our Allentown criminal defense lawyers know the other defenses that can be used in criminal cases, and how they may apply to yours. If you are facing charges, call us today at F:P:Sub:Phone} or contact us online so we can discuss your case.



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