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How the Statute of Limitations Works in Texas Criminal Cases

The statute of limitations refers to a law that limits the time the state has to charge an individual with a particular criminal offense. Some crimes, such as murder, have no statute of limitations. But in Texas, there is a three-year statute of limitations for felonies unless the law specifically provides otherwise.

The three-year period starts to run from the date of the alleged offense, i.e. when the crime was purportedly committed. But certain events suspend or “toll” the limitations period. For example, if the defendant voluntarily flees the jurisdiction, the time they are absent from the state does not count against the three-year period. Likewise, if the defendant is already under indictment, the time during which that indictment is pending does not count.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) has clarified that a pending indictment only tolls the limitations period if the subsequent indictment “allege(s) the same conduct, same acts, or same transaction.” In other words, let’s say James is indicted on a felony burglary charge in 2019. That indictment is dismissed in 2021 but then the state then indicts James on a completely unrelated felony drug charge. The two years during which the felony burglary indictment was pending did not stop the three-year clock on the drug charge.

Court of Criminal Appeals: Indictment Alleging Different Drug Did Not Toll Statute of Limitations

So what about a situation where prosecutors indict a defendant for possession of a specific drug but later file an amended indictment identifying a different drug? Is the statute of limitations tolled in that scenario? According to a recent CCA decision, State v. West, the answer is “no.”

Here is what happened. In September 2016, prosecutors charged the defendant with three counts of “knowingly possessing or attempting to obtain the drug Tramadol by misrepresentation, fraud, forgery, deception, or subterfuge.” The last of these three offenses allegedly occurred on June 5, 2015. On June 5, 2018, the district attorney dismissed this indictment and immediately refiled a new indictment, which now accused the defendant of “knowingly possessing or attempting to obtain the drug Oxycodone,” as opposed to Tramadol.

Under the facts of this case, a majority of the CCA held that “the subsequent indictment does not necessarily charge the same act, conduct, or transaction as the first.” As such, the statute of limitation was not tolled and the trial court was correct in dismissing the new indictment. Critically, the CCA noted that the “State’s untimely switch” of the alleged drug “could have an effect on the defensive theory” of the case. More to the point, the defendant was unfairly deprived of his ability to preserve any facts or evidence necessary to defend against the Oxycodone charge.

Speak with a League City Drug Crimes Attorney Today

The statute of limitations is just one of many crucial legal protections afforded to a defendant in a criminal trial. An experienced League City drug crimes defense lawyer can help you understand and assert these protections in court. So if you are charged with drug possession and need legal representation, contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates today to speak with a member of our team.