A statute of limitations is a law that sets a deadline charging someone with committing a crime for filing suit after an injury has been suffered.The statute of limitations deadlines vary depending on the jurisdiction and the type of case, according to Cornell University Law School's Legal Information Institute.
In criminal cases, once the statute of limitations period passes, prosecutors are barred from bringing charges against the perpetrator, explains FindLaw. There is no statute of limitations on murder in any state in the United States, and many states have no statute of limitations on more serious violent crimes. Generally, the less serious the crime, the shorter the statute of limitations period. Wyoming and South Carolina, however, have no statutes of limitations for either felony or misdemeanor prosecutions. Where an applicable statute of limitations on prosecution of a particular crime exists, it is "tolled" (which means that the clock stops running) if the criminal leaves the jurisdiction or goes into hiding, says FindLaw.
Statutes of limitations for bringing civil suits also vary from state to state and depend on the type of harm the plaintiff claims to have suffered, according to Lawyers.com. For example, a plaintiff wishing to bring suit against a government entity must file suit within one year in most jurisdictions. However, a plaintiff claiming property damage caused by any defendant other than a government entity has two to ten years, depending on the jurisdiction, to file suit. Breach of contract claims, medical and legal malpractice claims, personal injury claims and fraud claims each have their own statutes of limitations, and the time periods allowed for bringing suit under each cause of action varies from one state to the next, says Lawyers.com.