Not everybody files a police report immediately after a crime, and the reasons vary. Some people may be reluctant to file a report because a family member committed the crime. Others may fear retaliation from the perpetrator. In some cases, that a crime occurred may not be apparent until some time has elapsed after the event. In the United States, most states have rules relating to the police report time frame.
Statutes of Limitations
The filing of a police report is typically the first step in a criminal prosecution. After that, actual charges are filed. However, all crimes have statutes of limitations that govern how much time can pass before the state begins prosecuting a crime, which means if charges aren’t filed before the deadline, the case is effectively dead, and charges cannot be brought. This means it’s important to file a police report as quickly as possible after a crime has been committed.
Even if it is filed within the statute of limitations, the prosecutor and investigators must have enough time to prepare a case.
Statute of Limitations for Misdemeanor Offenses
Misdemeanors, such as simple assault and domestic violence, can involve jail time if a suspect is convicted. Generally, the deadline for filing a police report for these charges is two years, but a victim may take some time to decide whether to go ahead and file charges against a friend or relative. Different classes of misdemeanors may have different statutes of limitations.
For instance, in Florida, first-degree misdemeanors have a two-year statute of limitations (from the date the crime was committed), and second-degree misdemeanors have a one-year statute of limitations (from the date the crime was committed).
Statute of Limitations for Felony Crimes
Felonies are the most serious crimes, and the statute of limitations for these is typically five years. In some states, the most serious offenses have no deadline. For instance, Kentucky, Maryland and some other states have no statute of limitations for felony sex crimes.
This means several years could pass before a felony complaint is filed, which often happens out of fear or loyalty to the person who committed the crime, typically in cases of child abuse or sexual assault.
After a Car Accident
Filing a police report after an accident is important. This helps ensure that all the details relating to the accident are documented and to avoid an innocent party being held accountable for something he didn’t do. Anybody who is involved in a car accident should contact the police. In some states, this is a legal requirement. Even if it’s not, it’s good practice to notify the police, who can then decide whether their presence is required at the scene of the accident.
Variations in the Law
Statutes of limitations vary from state to state. In some states, laws relating to certain violations require reporting an accident to police after the fact within only a few days, such as car accidents. For instance, under California law, a car accident must be reported when anyone is injured or killed in the crash, property damage reaches or exceeds $1,000, any of the drivers involved were operating without a license, or if one of the drivers was driving while intoxicated.
Additionally, the car accident must be reported within 10 days, or driving privileges may be revoked. Anyone who isn’t sure whether she has sufficient reason to file a police report should talk with a local attorney who can confirm local laws.
For most crimes, the time limit starts the minute the crime occurs, but sometimes, such as in the case of theft or child abuse, the time limit doesn’t start until the crime is discovered.
Claire is a qualified lawyer and specialized in family law before becoming a full-time writer. She has written for many digital publications, including The Washington Post, Forbes, Vice and HealthCentral.