Every state has a statute of limitations, and Colorado is no exception to this rule. The Colorado General Assembly notes that the Colorado statute of limitations defines the maximum time period allowed before charges can be brought against an entity. Once the time has elapsed, the victim can no longer bring a case against the other party. Except, as with all legal proceedings, it's never this clear-cut.
The state's legal system applies different limitation period of time to both civil and criminal cases. Some crimes have no maximum time where charges can be brought because of the seriousness of those offenses. In some instances, the timer on the crime may be paused (a situation known as "tolling"). In this article, we delve into the statute of limitations and explore the limits applicable to common criminal cases.
It may seem counterproductive to justice to have such a statute, but they exist for an excellent legal reason. Statutes of limitations exist to limit the window in where reliable evidence can be presented. In some cases, as time goes by, testimonies become distorted. People's memories are not infallible, and their version of events may change with each retelling as they remember the events differently. Thus, statutes of limitations provide an imortant balance for legal proceedings.
Additionally, if some cases were to be filed later, the courts may become inundated with matters that it can't securely deal with. The statute exists so that the law courts can deal with current issues as they arise and bring them to a conclusion. Even so, the rule doesn't exist for some crimes in Colorado. For example, the charges for murder or sexual assault of a child have no time limit for which charges can be laid against defendants. Sexual assault counts as a severe offense and statutes for other branches of sexual assault have similar long periods. These offenses are so severe that introducing limitations on them doesn't seem fair.
In Colorado, both civil and criminal charges have time limits applied to them. The criminal statute of limitations have several broad definitions of offenses. Any crime that qualifies as a felony has a limit of three years. Misdemeanors have a valid period of eighteen months. Class one and two traffic offenses have a limit of one year, and petty offenses are given a six-month period before the time to file the charge expires. These petty offenses are usually far less severe in terms of the actions and impact on the victims so their valid period is short. The criminal statute of limitations helps to manage case loads for these common situations.
There isn't any general rule of thumb that applies to each law, however, and an individual may need to consult a lawyer to see if the statute may have expired on a charge. The American Bar Association notes several ways to extend a limitation period. Sexual assault crimes (with the exception of assault against a child) have varying lengths of time where the charges can be laid. Sexual contact with a minor or with an adult both have a ten year window from discovery. The timer differs again based on when the crime was discovered or committed in some cases.
The Discovery rule exists in cases where the victim may not have had any knowledge that they were injured. Some of the instances in which these rules have been applied are medical malpractice suits or lawsuits against drug companies. The clock begins to run once the victim has discovered that they were injured by the defendant. There are exceptions to this as well, since the defendant's lawyer may propose that the statute begin counting from when the victim may have reasonably discovered the injury instead of the actual date of discovery.
Wrongful death statutes also vary by state. In Colorado, wrongful death statutes run for two years after the vent has occurred. This period allows the plaintiff ample time under the wrongful death statutes to file a suit.
If the window for filing the case has expired, you can still file the claim. However, if the statute has expired, the defendant has an excellent reason to ask the court to dismiss the case entirely. If you do file the lawsuit, and the defendant uses the statute as a defense, your lawyer will be required to provide evidence as to why the limitation may not apply. Your attorney may show that the discovery rule applies to that particular case or that there may be an exception to the rule in that case.
Negotiating leverage for settlements also depends on the claim filing date. If you're taking a personal injury case to court in Colorado, filing it before the statute expires should be one of the most crucial considerations. The defendant might be in a much stronger negotiating position if the claim filing deadline for the lawsuit had passed when you brought the claim to court. In such a case, you no longer have the upper hand, and the defendant may simply let the matter go to trial and be dismissed under the statute.
In many cases, the statute begins the count when the crime has occurred. However, exemptions take into account situations where the crime may have been challenging to discover, or the victims may have felt pressured against reporting the crime for some reason. If defendants have been found giving misleading testimony or hiding vital information in the case, the courts may be inclined to offer extensions to the statute.
A legal disability may also factor into exceptions. If the injured party is below the age of eighteen or is deemed mentally incompetent, then the statute may pause the count until the victim is once again able to deal with the situation. This pause only occurs when there is no legal representative that can file the suit on behalf of the injured party. If the defendant goes "on the run" or hides within the state of Colorado, then the countdown pauses. That period of absence doesn't count towards limit.
The statute of limitations is a critical element of the legal system in Colorado. Colorado Politics notes that even today, legislators are hard at work improving how it applies to specific laws. Knowing whether the statute has expired in a particular situation gives you the tools to understand whether it's worth it to bring your case to trial. In many cases, it may not be worth the effort to take the case to trial since you're not guaranteed any compensation if the statute has expired. Consult a lawyer at Firouzbakht Law Firm to help you figure out the statute of limitations regarding your case and if the filing deadline has already passed.