The statute of limitations provides a maximum period of time after a violation of civil or criminal law can no longer be prosecuted in court. This statue prevents the prosecution of an individual for violations committed a several years ago, which would constitute unfair punishment to prosecute the individual in present time. There is not a statute of limitations for all crimes, as murder can be punishable at any time, but lesser crimes, such as misdemeanors are generally subjected to statutes of limitations. All “heinous” crimes have an unlimited statute of limitations as well as violations of international law, such as genocide and war crimes.
The statute of limitations is necessary as all cases will degrade over time. This includes fading evidence, shoddy testimony from witnesses with poor recollection, changing crime scenes and record destruction. Most crimes that have statutes of limitations will have the “discovery rule” which allows the statute of limitations to begin upon the discovery of the wrongdoing. This is especially important in civil cases as wrongdoing is not always readily apparent. The discovery rules can apply to criminal cases too and has been applied to sexual abuses cases against minors that later remember the abuse when they become adults.
In the event of continuous violations of the law, the statute of limitations is applied to the last possible date that the violation occurred. Therefore, if a violation of the law occurs while the initial crime’s statute of limitations is in effect, then the first crime will not expire. The series of crimes is charged as one crime and the statute of limitations begins after the last crime has been committed. The statute of limitations can also be suspended in the event that the criminal is a fugitive, or the crime can be charged in absentia and a verdict rendered without the fugitive present. Crimes committed against minors may have its own statute of limitations that allows the child to bring suit against the other party once they become a legal adult.
In Kenya the limitations of action statute exists under the Laws of Kenya Chapter 22 which is described as an Act of Parliament to prescribe periods for the limitation for actions and arbitrations, and to make provision concerning the acquisition of easements by prescription, and for matters incidental thereto and matters connected therewith.
It is important when dealing with a civil matter to be aware of the statute of limitations.A local lawyer will be able to inform you on the nature of the statute of limitation laws in your area and your options to seek damages in civil cases. Most personal injury claims will be limited to two – three years after discovery, but this is more of a benchmark than a guideline. Be aware that for cases based on civil wrongs committed a number of years ago, the case will be difficult to prosecute and your chances of winning damages are diminished. If the statute of limitations runs out before the lawsuit is filed, then no legal action may be taken. Any attempt to do so will result in the judge dismissing the suit without hearing the merits of the claim. In order to “toll” the statute of limitations (i.e. make the limitations period stop running), the plaintiff must actually file suit. Demand letters sent to the would be defendant or the verbal notification of a future claim do not act to toll the statute of limitations.
Originally posted on http://court.laws.com/statute-of-limitations