I often receive calls from individuals with questions regarding the statute of limitations in Oklahoma. Sometimes it is a current client, sometimes it is someone who was just charged with a crime, and sometimes it's simply an individual who hopes to put their mind at ease by knowing they are out of the woods.
Regardless of the reason or reasons, I get plenty of inquires asking the same thing. That makes me think there must not be enough information available online. Perhaps the information is too difficult to locate.
It's not just lay persons who seem to have questions about the issue. I have had more than a few attorneys who have asked about this as well. Consequently, I wanted to post an easily accessible explanation for those with questions about the statute of limitations in Oklahoma and how it might impact a criminal allegation.
What is the statute of limitations in Oklahoma?
The general Oklahoma criminal statute of limitations can be found in section 152 of title 22 in the Oklahoma Statutes. It is literally a statute (law) that discusses the prosecution's limitations on the time they can file charges against a person for a specific type of crime. The statute has been amended over the years to distinguish between various different types of criminal allegations. There are different time frames allowed for prosecution based on the specific type of crime at issue. There is a separate statute of limitation for criminal allegations and civil claims.
Is the statute of limitations the same for all crimes?
The statute of limitation in Oklahoma is not the same for every crime. According to section 152 of title 22, the general rule is that prosecution for a crime in Oklahoma must be commenced within three (3) years after its commission. Also, prosecution for the crime of accessory after the fact must be commenced within the same time limit allowed for the felony of which the person acted as an accessory.
However, the statute explains that certain other crimes' have different time-frames.
Criminal fraud and workers' compensation fraud must be prosecuted within three (3) years after the discovery of the crime, but in no event longer than seven (7) years after the commission of the crime.
Criminal violations involving false or bogus checks shall be prosecuted within five (5) years after the commission of such offense.
The prosecution of any criminal violation regarding the state income tax laws must be commenced within five (5) years following the commission of the crime. Crimes involving any violations of the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Code shall be commenced within three (3) years after the commission of the offense.
When a deadly weapon is used to commit or attempt to commit a felony, the crime must be prosecuted within seven (7) years after the commission of the crime. Arson must be prosecuted within seven (7) years after the commission of the crime as well. The crime of solicitation for murder in the first degree must be commenced within seven (7) years after the discovery of the crime. As used here, "discovery" means the date upon which the crime is made known to anyone other than a person involved in the solicitation. The crime of murder has no statute of limitations.
Many crimes are also grouped into categories for limitations purposes. For example:
bribery, embezzlement of public money, bonds, securities, assets or property of the state or any county, school district, municipality or other subdivision thereof, or of any misappropriation of public money, bonds, securities, assets or property of the state or any county, school district, municipality or other subdivision thereof, falsification of public records of the state or any county, school district, municipality or other subdivision thereof, and conspiracy to defraud the State of Oklahoma or any county, school district, municipality or other subdivision thereof in any manner or for any purpose shall be commenced within seven (7) years after the discovery of the crime.
However, prosecution for the crimes of:
embezzlement or misappropriation of public money, bonds, securities, assets or property of any school district, including those relating to student activity funds, or the crime of falsification of public records of any independent school district, the crime of criminal conspiracy, the crime of embezzlement, false personation, or identity theft, the financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult, or Medicaid fraud shall be commenced within five (5) years after the discovery of the crime.
Likewise, most sex crimes are also categorized together. According to the Oklahoma statute of limitations:
prosecution for sexual crimes against children, specifically rape or forcible sodomy, sodomy, lewd or indecent proposals or acts against children, involving minors in pornography, child abuse, and child trafficking shall be commenced by the forty-fifth birthday of the alleged victim.
Just like the other grouped crimes mentioned above, prosecution of these sex crimes, when committed against victims eighteen (18) years of age or older, shall be commenced within twelve (12) years after the discovery of the crime. When dealing with sex crimes,"discovery" means the date that a physical or sexually related crime involving a victim eighteen (18) years of age or older is reported to a law enforcement agency.
What is considered "discovery" of a crime for statute of limitations issues?
"Discovery" is a term used frequently in the Oklahoma statute of limitations; however, the term does not have the same obvious meaning in the statute that it does in common parlance. There are certain sections in the statute of limitations where the term "discovery" is defined. In other instances it is not.
When "discovery" is not defined specifically, one must assume the legislature is either referring to the plain meaning of the term or the definition that has been developed by the courts though case law developed by appellate courts.
According to the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, the statute of limitations begins to run and the offense has been "discovered" (unless otherwise defined), when any person (including the victim) other than the wrongdoer or someone in pari delicto with the wrongdoer has knowledge of both (i) the act and (ii) its criminal nature.
Can I be prosecuted after the statute of limitations has run?
Generally you cannot be prosecuted after the time prescribed in the statute of limitations has passed. However, according to section 153 of title 22 in the Oklahoma Statutes, there is an exception. According to that statute:
If when the offense is committed the defendant be out of the state, the prosecution may be commenced within the term herein limited after his coming within the state, and no time during which the defendant is not an inhabitant of or usually resident within the state, is part of the limitation.
As such, if you are not an "inhabitant" or "usually resident within the state" the prosecution will have an argument that the statute of limitations has tolled. The prosecution will then have the burden of proving the statute has tolled.