How Long Do You Have to File a Police Report?

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As a general rule, you should file a police report as soon as the crime happens. Many people, however, have reasons for not filing a police report immediately. Perhaps the crime was committed by a family member or maybe you fear some sort of retribution from the perpetrator. Sometimes you aren't even aware a crime has been committed until long after the fact, as sometimes happens with thefts and robberies. It's important to understand that there are time limits on when you can file a police report, and learning those limits will ensure you never fail to file one before the time is up.

  1. Statutes of Limitations

    • All crimes have a statute of limitations, a law governing how much time can pass before a prosecution must commence. If charges are not filed in the allotted time frame, the case is effectively dead and charges cannot be pursued. Filing a police report is typically the first step in a prosecution, and it may be weeks or months before actual charges are filed. Consequently, you cannot wait until the statute of limitations is almost up, because prosecutors and investigators will not have time to prepare a case and bring charges.

    Petty Offenses

    • While there is variation from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, the statute of limitations on petty offenses is typically 1 year. Petty offenses are offenses involving minor infractions of the law, such as traffic accidents or minor vandalism. You could conceivably wait up to 11 months before filing a report and officers would still have plenty of time to investigate the case and have charges brought.

    Misdemeanors

    • Misdemeanors are less-serious crimes that can involve the possibility of jail. In most jurisdictions the statute of limitations on a misdemeanor is 2 years. Often these are the crimes where people wait the longest to file charges as crimes like simple assault in domestic violence are typically misdemeanors. Victims will often take time to decide whether to file charges against a friend or family member. Since misdemeanors involve more investigation, the report needs to be filed at least 6 months before the statute is up.

    Felonies

    • Felonies are the most serious crimes, and the statute of limitations is typically 5 years, although murder, and in some states, rape have no time limit. You could wait years before filing a felony complaint, and this does happen in cases of child abuse or sexual assault, due to fear or loyalty on the part of the victim.

    Variations

    • The statutes of limitations on crimes do vary from state to state. Further, some states have reporting requirements that require you to report certain crimes, such as car accidents, within a few days. If you are considering waiting to file a police report, be sure to look up the laws in your state to make sure you know what the exact time limit is. Also, be aware that with some crimes, such as theft or child abuse, the time limit does not start until the crime is discovered. For most crimes, the time limit starts the minute the crime occurs.

    Important Considerations

    • When filing a police report remember that sooner is always better than later. Waiting to file a report make investigation much more difficult to accomplish. Witnesses may forget important details, and evidence may be destroyed or contaminated. The longer you wait to file a police report the less likely officers will be able to make a successful arrest and prosecutors will be able to get a successful conviction.

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