Statutes of Limitations

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STATUTES OF LIMITATIONS are laws passed by legislatures that set an amount of time following certain events, after which legal proceedings involving those events may not begin. Statutes of limitations relate to both civil causes of action and criminal prosecutions. A civil statute of limitations may stipulate that the time period begins with the occurrence of an injury or with its discovery. For example, the law may permit an injured party in a car accident only a certain amount of time in which to begin court proceedings against the other party. Statutes of limitation exist for a variety of reasons, but primarily because, as time passes, papers may be destroyed, witnesses may die, or the conditions of a transaction may be forgotten. With the passage of time, it often becomes impractical to attempt to recover damages or to prosecute a crime. Due to statutes of limitations, certain violations of the law, because they are said to have become "stale," are never addressed in court. For some crimes, including homicide, there are no statutes of limitation. A number of states have also begun to abolish time limits for bringing criminal charges in cases involving the alleged sexual abuse of children.


Engel, Monroe. Statutes of Limitations. New York: Knopf, 1988.

Akiba J.Covitz

Esa Lianne Sferra

Meredith L.Stewart