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What is the Statute of Limitations?
The statute of limitations, in law, legislation that sets time limits after which specified types of civil and criminal cases may not be brought to court. These statutes aim at avoiding the injustice that may occur if a case has to be decided after many years, during which time evidence may be lost, witnesses may die, and the memories of those involved in the case may become unclear.
State legislatures select the types of cases to be placed under such limitations. They also specify the time period for each type of case. In most states, for example, a person must sue for damages for personal injury within one to three years after his injury or he will not be able to sue at all. In general, minor crimes, like petty larceny, are subject to prosecution for a much shorter period of time than major crimes, such as bribery. Generally there is no statute of limitations applicable to murder.
The time period specified in a statute of limitations is usually considered to begin at the time that the act provoking complaint occurs. Among the exceptions to this rule are cases in which the defendant is absent from the state or is concealing evidence or when the person entitled to bring suit is unable to exercise his right due to mental illness, infancy, or some other cause. In such cases the statute comes into effect only at the time that he first becomes able to exercise his right to sue.