The Statute of Limitations for Theft in Utah
Some crimes take a while to uncover or bring to light. In some cases, it takes so long to realize that the law does not allow the case to move forward. Each crime has time limits for filing, known as a “statute of limitations.” If this limitations period runs, the defendant can no longer be charged with the crime. It is important to understand how the statute of limitations works with theft offenses if you have been charged or think you may be charged with a theft offense in Utah. For a free consultation on your charges, or for more information, contact Salt Lake City theft defense lawyer Darwin Overson of Overson Law today.
Theft Statute of Limitations in Salt Lake City
Different criminal offenses have different statutes of limitations. These limitations are in place to ensure that any accusations against the defendant are made in a timely manner, rather than churning up old mistakes from years prior. Especially with cases where it is important that a witness identified the defendant, cases that are too old can suffer serious problems from the witness’ declining memory. Other evidence may similarly decay or become lost over time. It is also unfair to a defendant to have them constantly checking over their shoulder wondering if an old offense will resurface and send them to jail.
Lastly, statutes of limitations are based on the theory that if a crime went unnoticed, unreported, or unfiled for too long, it must not have caused much harm. Many crimes are considered serious, at all times, and have no statute of limitations in Utah. This usually applies for crimes like murder, rape, and cases of sex abuse or trafficking.
Theft, however, has a 4-year statute of limitations if it is a felony and a 2-year statute of limitations if it is a misdemeanor. Theft under Utah Code § 76-6-412 can be a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on what was stolen. If the value of the stolen property was less than $1,500, it is a misdemeanor offense with a 2-year statute of limitations. This is common in cases of shoplifting and smaller theft offenses. If more than $1,500 worth of items were stolen, it is a felony and has a 4-year statute of limitations. In addition, it is a felony with a 4-year statute of limitations for:
- Theft of cattle or livestock,
- Firearm theft,
- Vehicle theft,
- Theft directly from another person, or
- Theft of services.
This statute of limitations limits how long the government has to file a case against you and arrest you or issue a court summons. This does not mean that the case against you must be completed within the time period – but there are other statutes dealing with the reasonable length of a “speedy” trial. If you were already charged and appeared in court, the time for the statute of limitations protect you is likely already over because the case was filed in court. Lastly, note that this statute of limitations pauses, or is “tolled,” for as long as you are outside the state of Utah. Thus, if you flea the State, the government actually gets a longer time limit to file charges.
How Does the Statute of Limitations Work in Theft Trials in Utah?
The statute of limitations can be raised as a defense to charges against you. If you were not charged within the time limit, your attorney can ask that the judge drop the case against you. In some cases, this may require you to provide evidence about the offense and when it occurred in order to prove the case was filed too late. If you stole something, but no one noticed and reported it to the police until years later, you may need to admit the date of the theft to prove the statute of limitations already ran.
This may also come up because of the varying levels of theft offenses. Because theft can be a misdemeanor or felony based on the value of the items stolen, the statute of limitations may be shorter than police and prosecutors anticipated. If they charge you with felony theft after three years, they would be within the statute of limitations for felony theft. However, if it turns out the items were worth less than $1,500, the statute of limitations may only be 2 years, and you should be safe from prosecution.
However, other theft crimes are ongoing offenses, and you may be charged at any time. If you stole items many years ago, but continue to possess them today, you are still committing a crime known as “receiving stolen property,” and can be charged at any time.
Salt Lake City Theft Defense Lawyer
If you think you may be charged with a theft offense, talk to an attorney about whether the charges are too late. Additionally, if you were charged with a crime that happened more than 2 or 4 years ago, talk to an attorney today to see if the statute of limitations may be a good defense in your case. For a free consultation with our experienced Salt Lake City criminal defense lawyer, call Darwin Overson of Overson Law today at (801) 733-1308.