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Statute of Limitations for Crimes in Iowa

In the State of Iowa, the statutes of limitations list the time period within which the State must commence a criminal case against the person accused of the crime. If the State attempts to bring charges after the applicable time period has expired, then the person charged can file a motion to have the case dismissed. In Iowa, some of the most serious crimes, such as murder, have no statute of limitations.

In these cases, the defense will file a motion to dismiss the case due to the expiration of the statute of limitations in Iowa Code section 802.3 under Iowa Rule of Criminal Procedure 2.11(6)(a). The prosecutor for the State of Iowa bears the burden of proof of demonstrating the charges are timely brought. 

Attorneys for the Statute of Limitation Defense in Iowa

If you were charged with a crime in Iowa, you should learn more about the statute of limitations. This article explains the different ways that the statute of limitations might apply to your case. This article does not provide any legal advice, but can be used simply to help you spot issues that might apply in your case. 

If you are charged with a crime or fear you might be, seek out the services of a criminal defense attorney in Iowa as soon as possible. A criminal defense attorney can help you understand the charges that might be brought and how to protect yourself against a false allegation.

Call (515) 279-9700 today to discuss your case.


General Statute of Limitations Schedule

As provided by Iowa Code 802.1, 802.2, 802.2A, 802.3, 802.4, 802.5, 802.10, the following offenses have the listed statute of limitations:

  1. Murder has no statute of limitations;
  2. Other felonies have a statute of limitation of 3 years from the commission of the crime or three years after DNA evidence is available;
  3. Aggravated misdemeanors have a statute of limitations of 3 years;
  4. Serious misdemeanors have a statute of limitations for 3 years after its commission;
  5. Simple misdemeanors or violations of a municipal or county rule or ordinance have a statute of limitations of 1 year after its commission. 

Schedule for the Statute of Limitations for Specific Crimes

The legislature has created statutory provisions that have increased the statute of limitations for several different types of specific criminal offenses including:


Tolling Provisions for Iowa's Statute of Limitations

Under the statutory scheme in Iowa, the statute of limitations is tolled under the following conditions:

For some types of crimes such as fraud or a breach of fiduciary obligation, the statutory scheme provides for a tolling provision that applies for 1 year after discovery of the offense and up to a maximum of 3 additional years. 

For example, Iowa law provides for a one-year fraud extension of the statute of limitation after the discovery of the offense under Iowa Code section 802.5. In these cases, the prosecutor will allege that the charges were timely filed and were saved by a one-year extension under Iowa Code section 802.5.

When the extension applies, the state will file a resistance and a brief in opposition to the defendant’s motion to dismiss due to the statute of limitations.


The Purpose of the Statute of Limitations in Iowa

The main purpose of a statute of limitations in criminal cases is to prevent fraudulent and stale actions from being charged after too much time has passed. At the same time, the statute of limitations seeks to allow the right to pursue a claim for a reasonable period of time.

Criminal statutes of limitations were created to protect individuals from having to defend themselves against charges when the basic facts may have become obscured by the passage of time. The statute of limitations in criminal cases also minimizes the danger of official punishment because of acts in the far-distant past.

Statutes of limitations also has the effect of encouraging law enforcement officials promptly to investigate suspected criminal activity without relying on unreasonable delays.

Under Iowa law, the statute of limitations provides “predictability by specifying a limit beyond which there is an irrebuttable presumption that a defendant's right to a fair trial would be prejudiced.” United States v. Marion, 404 U.S. 307, 322, 92 S.Ct. 455, 464, 30 L.Ed.2d 468 (1971). 

The courts have recognized that the statute of limitation might necessarily allow a criminal to escape punishment. The statute of limitations is liberally construed in favor of criminal defendants.” 5 Wayne R. LaFave, et al., Criminal Procedure § 18.5(a), at 210 (4th ed. 2015). For this reasons, the court in Iowa will resolve doubts in favor of the accused when construing statutes of limitations.  


Applicable Exceptions to the Three Year Statute of Limitations

The general statute of limitations for serious criminal offenses is provided in Iowa Code section 802.3 which states that a charging document for a felony or aggravated or serious misdemeanor must be filed within three years after the commission of the crime.

Two possible applicable exceptions to the general three-year statute of limitations in Iowa Code section 802.3. The first such applicable exception is found in Iowa Code section 802.7. The second such application exception is found in Iowa Code Section 802.5. The courts narrowly apply exceptions to the statute of limitations. 


Iowa Code Section 802.7

Under Iowa Code section 802.7, when a crime is based on a series of acts committed at different times, the period of limitations prescribed by this division shall commence upon the commission of the last of such criminal acts.


Iowa Code Section 802.5

The second possible applicable exception is Iowa Code section 802.5. This exception to the generally applicable three-year statute of limitations applies to cases in which a material element of the crime is fraud. For fraud cases, the prosecution may be commenced after the expiration of the three-year statute of limitations if the prosecution begins within one year after the discovery of the offense by an aggrieved party. But this exception also provides that in no case should this exception extend the period of limitation otherwise applicable by more than three years.


The Continuing Offense Doctrine in Iowa Code Section 802.7

Iowa Code section 802.7 provides that “[w]hen an offense is based on a series of acts committed at different times, the period of limitations prescribed by this division shall commence upon the commission of the last of such acts.” 

The courts in Iowa have found this section is an expression of the continuing offense exception to the statute of limitations.  For this reason, whether the crime is classified as a continuous one rather than a crime based on discrete acts plays an important role in how the statutes of limitations is applied. 

When a crime involves discrete acts, the statute of limitations will usually begin to run at the point in time in which all the elements of the crime have been satisfied. 

On the other hand, for a continuous crime, the crime is not complete until the last related act is committed. See generally Andrew P. O'Shea, Note, Criminal Law—An Embezzlement Intermezzo: Scheming to Side-Step Toussie v. United States's Continuing Offense Test, 35 W. New Eng. L. Rev. 249, 254–55 (2013). Common examples of continuing offense include crimes involving ongoing harm such as kidnapping, escape, or bigamy. 


The DNA Profile of the Accused

One exception to the statute of limitations in Iowa involves cases in which the prosecutor files a charged based on the DNA profile of the person sought under Iowa Code Section 802.10. However, in these cases related to the DNA profile of the accused, the charging document must be filed within three years of the date the person identified in the DNA profile is identified. 


Additional Resources

Exceptions to the Statute of Limitations in Iowa - Visit the website of RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), the largest anti-sexual violence organization in the United States. The article discusses the exceptions to the statute of limitations and its application for the following crimes: Invasion of privacy--nudity, Indecent exposure; Criminal transmission of HIV; Sexual exploitation of a minor; Incest; Sexual misconduct with offenders and juveniles; Sexual exploitation by a counselor, therapist, or school employee; Lascivious conduct with a minor; Indecent contact with a child; Assault with intent to commit sexual abuse; Lascivious acts with a child; and Sexual abuse.


Finding an Attorney for the Statute of Limitations Defense in Iowa

If you have been charged with a misdemeanor or felony offense in Iowa, contact McCarthy & Hamrock, P.C.. Our attorneys can help you understand the most important defenses that might apply in your case including the statute of limitations and the right to a speedy trial.

McCarthy & Hamrock, P.C. represents clients across the Des Moines area, including those in Ankeny, Urbandale, Johnston and anywhere in Polk County or Dallas County. The West Des Moines-based firm also defends clients across the state of Iowa.

Call (515) 279-9700 to schedule a free consultation today and learn more about your options.


This article was last updated on Friday, July 14, 2017.

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