Once you've been charged with a traffic violation, the statute of limitations stops running. Criminal statutes of limitations set limits for how long a prosecutor can wait to file criminal charges against a suspect. Once you are charged with a traffic violation, or given the traffic ticket, the statute of limitations stops, but the fine stays on your record indefinitely.
When the Statute of Limitations Starts Running and When It Stops
A feature common to statutes of limitations in every state is that the time period starts running – moving toward an expiration date where the charge can no longer be imposed – from the time the crime is committed and it stops running when the crime is charged. In Texas, for example, the law regarding misdemeanors states that the indictment, or charge, must be brought against an individual within two years of committing the offense. Unpaid tickets and fines do not go away, however. They are not affected by statutes of limitations because they are imposed after the charge or ticketing.
What Happens When You Get a Ticket
When you're ticketed for a moving violation, the ticketing officer asks you to sign it. With that, you've been charged with the offense and you've acknowledged the charge with your signature. At the time of that acknowledgement, the statute of limitations for that violation no longer applies. From then on, it doesn't matter how long the ticket remains unpaid – the citation never expires, the charge doesn't go away and the fine is still due. There's even some possibility that you'll be charged with a new offense – the failure to pay your fine when due. And you can be fined again for that second offense.
Serious Offenses Vs. Minor Offenses
Some serious offenses, like murder, do not carry a statute of limitations. Various serious felonies are also indictable forever. This applies to many serious sexual offenses, kidnapping and other violent crimes, which vary from state to state. However, in every state, rape and serious sexual crimes against minors are always indictable. These offenses, like murder, can be charged at any later time, even decades after the commission of the crime.
Other felonies and most misdemeanors do have statutes of limitation that also vary somewhat from state to state. Felonies have longer statutes of limitations than misdemeanors. The statute of limitations on uncharged traffic violations commonly makes the offense impossible to charge after two years.