Limitation on prosecution – At what point can a crime no longer be prosecuted?

Ten years ago I stole a valuable watch. Can I still be convicted for this today?

If a crime was committed many years ago, a sentence often no longer makes sense. For this reason, there is the so-called statute of limitations. After a certain period has elapsed, a criminal offence can no longer be prosecuted.

Excluded from the statute of limitations are particularly serious criminal offences such as murder, genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

If the period of limitation for prosecution expires, the proceedings must be discontinued and no further investigations may be conducted. No charges may be brought, there is no trial before the court and no punishment may be imposed.

Limitation on prosecution-at what point can a crime no longer be prosecuted?

1. How long is the limitation period under German Criminal Law?

The statute of limitations under criminal law comes into effect at the end of a period specified by law. The length of the limitation period is determined by the amount of the penalty threatened by law.

Example: Theft is punished by law with a maximum sentence of five years imprisonment. The legislator has set a limitation period of five years for this. Robbery, on the other hand, is punishable by a maximum term of imprisonment of 15 years. According to the law, the limitation period for prosecution is 20 years.

2. When does the limitation period begin?

The limitation period begins with the end of the offence. In the case of theft, for example, this is the point in time at which the prey obtained is secured, e.g. by bringing it into one’s own home or a hiding place.

In some areas of law, in particular in criminal tax law, the determination of the beginning of the limitation period can be of great importance. Particularly with regard to the statute of limitations in criminal tax law, there are a number of legal issues that are so complicated in detail that they are only penetrated by specialists. In practice, mistakes occur again and again.

3. When is the limitation period for prosecution suspended?

The limitation period may be suspended under certain circumstances. This means that the limitation period does not continue for a certain period and that the remaining period continues after the end of the suspension.

Suspension of the statute of limitations is particularly relevant in the case of sexual offences. In the case of offences directed against a minor victim, the statute of limitations is suspended until the victim has reached the age of 18. This means that the limitation period will not begin until the victim turns 18.

4. Can the limitation period for prosecution be interrupted?

The limitation period can also be interrupted. The difference to suspension is that after the interruption has been dissolved, the limitation period starts anew. In particular, an interruption of the limitation period can be considered from the first hearing against the defendant or if the defendant is informed that an investigation has been initiated against him.

5. Statute of limitations on prosecution and enforcement

A distinction must be made between the limitation period for prosecution described here (how long a criminal offence can still be prosecuted or sentenced) and the so-called limitation period for execution. This refers to the period during which a convicted person can still be detained for a custodial sentence.