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Tennessee Criminal Statute of Limitations Laws

Criminal Statute of Limitations in Tennessee: Overview

Prosecutors must file charges against a defendant within a certain period of time in all but the most serious crimes. These time limits are called the "statute of limitations," which also apply to civil cases (see Time Limits to Bring a Case: The Statute of Limitations to learn more). This article focuses on the criminal statute of limitations in Tennessee, which range anywhere from 12 months to 15 years, depending the type of crime.

As in other states, the statute of limitations does not apply to any crime punishable by death or life in prison. Most misdemeanors in the state have a 12-month time limit.

The following chart details the various time limits for filing criminal charges in Tennessee.

Code Section 40-2-101, et seq.
Felonies Any crime punishable by death or life imprisonment: none; Class A felony: 15 yrs.; Class B felony: 8 yrs.; defrauding state, evading or defeating any tax, fraudulent return: 6 yrs.; Class C or D felony: 4 yrs.; Class E felony: 2 yrs.; others: 3 yrs.; offense committed against a child: 4 yrs. after offense is committed, or when child reaches majority, whichever occurs later; arson: 8 yrs;
Misdemeanors Gaming: 6 mos.; others: 12 mos.
Acts During Which Statute Does Not Run Concealing fact of crime, absent state

Note: State laws are constantly changing. FindLaw makes an effort to regularly update state laws, although they may not always reflect recent changes. Make sure you contact a Tennessee criminal defense attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

What is the Purpose of Time Limits for Criminal Charges?

The criminal statute of limitations is meant to encourage an efficient criminal justice system, discourage the constant threat of arrest, and make sure evidence (including witness testimony) is reliable at the time charges are filed. If someone has committed theft, for example, but isn't arrested until 45 years later, it's unlikely the evidence is reliable after so much time has passed. These time limits also hold police and prosecutors to a higher standard of urgency and diligence.

Murder and other very serious charges do not have time limits, however, due to the seriousness of these crimes. In other words, it wouldn't be fair to literally "get away with murder" if you've waited out the time limit.

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