Governor Suspends Statute of Limitations After Hurricane Sandy

New York City and Long Island residents are spending a great deal of time nowadays reorganizing and recovering after the devastation of Hurricane Sandy. The last thing they need is to worry about the possibility of being prosecuted for something for which they were investigated months or even years ago. Because of an executive order by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, however, some New Yorkers will have to go about the business of putting their lives back together with the possibility of criminal prosecution hanging over their head.

Gov. Cuomo issued an executive order suspending the statute of limitations for all criminal prosecutions from October 26, 2012, until a date to be determined. Presumably, this will be afterNew Yorkcourts and prosecutors are able to keep their offices open and resume normal business, but there is no guarantee of when the suspension will be over.

The statute of limitations, for criminal matters, is a law prohibiting prosecutors from bringing charges against people after a certain amount of time has passed. Class A felonies, like murder, have no statute of limitations. Others, like certain financial and white collar crimes, have a statute of limitations that begin at the time the offense was discovered. For most crimes, however, there is a statute of limitations that runs from the time of the alleged offense. For most felonies, it’s five years. For most misdemeanors it’s two years and for most traffic infractions and other minor violations, it is one year.

For example, let’s say you were arrested on suspicion of selling 4 grams of pot on Halloween (October 31, 2010). However, you were not charged at the time because police had difficulty locating a witness, and continued to have difficulty tracking that person down. Under normal circumstances, if you were not charged by October 31, 2012, prosecutors could not legally press charges.

However, keeping with this example, the governor’s order meant that the statute of limitations was suspended six days before your charges were up. You can still be charged, and will be under continued threat of facing criminal prosecution until after the governor decides to reinstate the law.

Statutes of limitations are laws meant to give people peace of mind. If prosecutors can’t come with the evidence necessary to prosecute someone within a certain period of time, then everyone needs to move on. Peace of mind is something New Yorkers could use more of while we put our lives back together after Hurricane Sandy. Until the governor lifts the order, though, those waiting for the statute of limitations to run out on an old allegation will not get that peace of mind. If you’re in that position, you are best advised to hire an experienced criminal defense lawyer so you’re ready.