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S. Huband, Esq.
S. Huband, Esq., Attorney
Category: Criminal Law
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I had question. I had a case for damage to government property

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I had question. I had a case for damage to government property that I assumed was resolved. The incident occurred in 2006 when I was 17. So the incident occurred over 7 1/2 years ago and is for some reason just now coming up on the court docket due to someone error. Does the statute of limitations law apply?
Thank you for the opportunity to assist you.

Q) Does the statute of limitations law apply?

Yes, but whether the statute of limitations acts to prohibit you being prosecuted for a crime depends on a few things I'll discuss below.

Possible crimes
You mentioned your charge was "damage to government property" but you didn't say which government. I'll assume it's Georgia and not the federal government. If I'm wrong about this assumption, please let me know.

It sounds like you are charged under 16-7-24, "interference with governmental property." That's a misdemeanor. Interfering with property belonging to a public utility is also a misdemeanor under 16-7-25. 16-7-22 (criminal damage to property in the first degree) and 16-7-23 (criminal damage to property in the second degree) are also out there, although it doesn't sound like either applies. The latter are both felonies, punishable by 1 to 10 years in prison (first degree) and 1 to 5 years in prison (second degree) respectively.

The type of crime (felony or misdemeanor) matters because there is a difference in the statute of limitations for each.

Statute of limitations
A statute of limitations means that the prosecution for a crime must commence within a certain period of time or the state is barred from prosecuting the accused. The Georgia Code tells us that the statute of limitations is different for different crimes. 17-3-1(c) tells up that felony prosecutions must begin within 4 years of the date of the alleged crime (with some exceptions for rape, murder, etc.) 17-3-1(d) tells us that a misdemeanor prosecution must begin within 2 years of the alleged crime.

So, you're in pretty good shape so far, since the crime you allegedly committed occurred over seven years ago. But keep reading.

There are exceptions to the dates mentioned. Georgia Code 17-3-2 tell us that the time limit is tolled (i.e. paused) if the accused is not usually within the state (i.e. has moved out of state or out of the country), the accused's identity is unknown, the accused is a government officer, or the accused is a guardian or trustee of another person.

Also, the legal question is when a prosecution "commences." Pursuant to Cochran v. State, 259 Ga. App. 130 (2003), the commencement of a prosecution begins when charging papers (for example an arrest warrant) are filed. So, if the charging papers or arrest warrant were filed in your case within the statute of limitations, but you are just now getting on the docket (which, granted, is highly unusual), then the statute of limitations may not bar your prosecution.

If you have a statute of limitations defense, you must raise this issue with the court. It is the prosecutor's burden to prove that the prosecution began within the applicable statute of limitations, but YOU are the one who has to bring up the issue.

Speedy trial
Finally, even if the court decides your prosecution commenced within the statute of limitations, the speedy trial rule might apply. Speedy trial means that an accused is entitled to be tried by the government reasonably promptly so that the case does not hang over the accused's head for years.

In Georgia, the state's speedy trial rule is contained in 17-1-170. An accused must file a written demand for a speedy trial with the court and the trial must commence within the court's next "term." How long a "term" lasts depends on which county your case is in, but a term generally occurs 2 to 4 or 5 times per year depending on the county. (Here is the complete list.)

Under the federal constitution, you also have a right to speedy trial under the 6th amendment. It's a little tougher and more complicated to show this right has been violated, but it is possible. Like the state speedy trial demand, you MUST file a written challenge to your speedy trial rights under the federal constitution.

I strongly suggest that, if you have not already retained an attorney to do so, you have an attorney look at these issues for you. If you do not know a criminal defense attorney in your area, try the Georgia State Bar attorney referral service. They can point you in the right direction.

I hope my response has been helpful. If you have follow-up questions or concerns on this topic, please ask. Otherwise, please rate my answer positively so that I can receive credit for my work. Doing so will NOT cost you any additional fee.

Take care,
S. Huband, Esq. and 2 other Criminal Law Specialists are ready to help you
Hello again,

I was notified that you rated the answer I gave positively, and I am very pleased and gratified that I was able to help you. I sincerely hope the matter(s) we discussed turn out well for you.

Please ask for me in the future if you have additional questions or concerns. Thank you very much for the opportunity to assist you.

Take care,