In criminal law, the time period within which a prosecutor must file charges against someone is referred to as the “statute of limitations.” If this is allowed to expire, prosecutors lack jurisdiction to charge or punish a defendant. Although statutes vary from state to state, the most heinous crimes, such as murder, do not carry a statute of limitations.
Attempted murder is classified as an “incomplete crime,” or an “inchoate crime.” There are three types of inchoate crimes: attempted, conspiracy and solicitation. Trying but failing to commit the crime, also referred to as “criminal attempt,” is considered the most serious inchoate crime. Attempted murder is regarded as a criminal attempt inchoate crime. For a charge of attempted murder, the action must meet three elements of criminal attempt: specific intent, actions to commit the crime and failure to commit the crime.
Categorizing Attempted Murder
Currently, no national, codified criminal statute of limitations for attempted murder exists. Most state penal codes categorize criminal activities into either felonies or misdemeanors depending on the severity of the crime. To determine the statute of limitations for a crime, the appropriate felony classification in a particular state must be determined. In general, the clock starts to run upon commission of the offense, as opposed to discovery of the crime or identification of the perpetrator.
Model Penal Code
Completed in 1962, The Model Penal Code (MPC), an attempt to standardize state penal codes, became the closest realization of an “American Criminal Code.” Although it was developed only as a guideline, 37 states have implemented some version of the MPC and several states, including Oregon, New Jersey and New York, have put into practice virtually all of its provisions. However, some states still reject the MPC’s departure from the common law tradition of treating inchoate actions as lesser offenses. The MPC’s code treats inchoate offenses, such as an attempted crime, the same as consummated offenses.
The California Penal Code states that “willful, deliberate and premeditated attempted murder” carries a maximum sentence of life. In California there is “no statute of limitations for any offense carrying a life sentence.” However, the Tennessee Code Annotated makes “attempted first degree murder and conspiracy to commit first degree murder” Class A felonies to which prosecution must begin within 15 years. In contrast, Kentucky’s criminal code states that “except as otherwise expressly provided, the prosecution of a felony is not subject to a period of limitation and may be commenced at any time.”
In the last decade many state legislators have voted to extend or abolish the statute of limitations on various crimes. In 2006, New York eliminated the statute of limitations for rape, as did Minnesota the next year. Many states that haven't already made the change are considering eliminating time limits for prosecution of sex abuse crimes against children. Many of the these statutory changes are based on new DNA retrieval and testing, but so far these changes do not extend to inchoate acts.