Content warning: This blog post discusses violent and sexual crimes, including those committed against children.
Domestic violence is a complex issue, and sometimes it can take months or even years before the victim pursues it in court. But when it comes to criminal charges, they don’t have unlimited time to do so.
A “statute of limitations” is a state law that sets a time limit on when a crime can be prosecuted. Basically, if enough time passes after the crime occurs, the prosecution can no longer charge the accused with a crime.
In Georgia, there are a number of different crimes that can fall under the “domestic violence” definition, and the punishments for these crimes are usually higher than similar crimes that don’t involve family. But how long do the victims of domestic violence and the prosecution have before the time limit set under the statute of limitations runs out?
The short answer: probably 2 or 4 years, unless the victim is a minor, in which case it’s 7 years. The long answer is a bit more complicated, and depends on the crime committed. Our team of criminal defense attorneys explains below.
General statute of limitations rules in Georgia
The Georgia Code’s Title 17 lays out the rules for the statute of limitations on felonies and misdemeanors (OCGA § 17-3-1).
Here are the basics:
- There is no time limit on murder cases
- Forcible rape must be charged within 15 years
- Other felonies punishable by death or life imprisonment must be charged within 7 years
- Any other felonies must be charged within 4 years
- Misdemeanors must be charged within 2 years
There are a few exceptions. For example, crimes in which the victim is under the age of 18 have a time limit of 7 years, regardless of what the crime was.
In addition, if the prosecution uses DNA evidence to establish the identity of the accused, then there is no time limit on any of the following crimes:
- armed robbery
- aggravated child molestation
- aggravated sodomy
- aggravated sexual battery
Finally, there are certain circumstances under which the time limit might be “tolled,” or suspended. In general, the “time clock” counting down the time limit before the statute of limitations doesn’t start if no one knows about the crime, or if no one knows who did it.
This also applies if the person who committed the crime is living outside the state of Georgia.
How does this apply to domestic violence in Georgia?
So, there are a lot of rules and exceptions when it comes to the statute of limitations for felonies and misdemeanors in Georgia. But how does all this apply to domestic violence?
The most common crime that people are charged with that falls under the “domestic violence” umbrella is family battery. Family battery is any act of physical violence toward a family member, such as a child or a spouse.
A first offense conviction for family battery would be considered a misdemeanor, meaning the time limit would be 2 years. Any second conviction for family battery would be considered a felony, however, which means if you are being charged for family battery a second time, the time limit would be 4 years.
It’s important to remember all the exceptions, though. If the victim of the crime is under 18 at the time of the crime, then the statute of limitations is 7 years.
In addition, if the act of domestic violence was of a sexual or molesting nature, then there is no time limit if the prosecution has DNA evidence of the accused’s identity. Moreover, if the crime is forcible rape, the time limit is 15 years.
However, these serious sexual offenses are usually prosecuted as their own crimes, not as domestic violence. Other common crimes that fall under the domestic violence definition include the following:
- assault or simple assault
- criminal damage to property
- unlawful restraint
- criminal trespass
Most of these would count as misdemeanors or basic felonies. So, the statute of limitations on most domestic violence cases will probably be 2 or 4 years– unless the victim is a minor, in which case it’s 7 years.
What to do if you’ve been accused of domestic violence
Domestic violence is a serious issue, but so is protecting the rights of the accused. If you’ve been wrongfully accused of domestic violence in Georgia, or if you worry that the court is ignoring laws that protect the rights of the defendant, like the statute of limitations, the Frye Law Group can help.
Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.