Understanding the Statute of Limitations for DUI in California

In California, as in other states, DUI (Driving Under the Influence) offenses are subject to a specific period known as the statute of limitations. This timeframe dictates how long the state has to initiate criminal proceedings against an individual accused of DUI. Understanding this legal timeframe is crucial for anyone involved in or affected by DUI cases in California.

Let’s explore the statute of limitations and the differences between misdemeanors and felonies in relation to when the “clock starts”, so to speak.

What is the Statute of Limitations?

The statute of limitations for a crime refers to the maximum time after an event within which legal proceedings may be initiated. Obviously this time frame is different depending on both the category of criminal activity and the severity of the charge, so how does it relate to driving under the influence?

For DUI in California

An important note regarding the statute of limitations for DUI is that the severity of the crime can affect the window of time that the state can pursue legal proceedings. This is called “tolling”, which will be discussed in a later section.

For now, the stated statute of limitations for DUI in California is as follows:

  • Misdemeanor DUI: The statute of limitations is typically 1 year from the date of the offense.
  • Felony DUI: The statute of limitations extends to 3 years.

When Does the Clock Start?

The date of the offense is the day that the statute of limitations begins counting down, meaning that the state will begin the process of charging the offender. This can take the form of a formal complaint from the state, an arrest warrant, or an arraignment. 

Many wonder how the statute of limitations functions if the offense goes undiscovered until a later date. In situations like that, the time begins on the date of the discovery of the offense.

Exceptions to the Rule

There are circumstances under which the statute of limitations can be extended or tolled:

  1. Absence from the State: If the accused leaves California, the clock may be paused until they return. Keep in mind that the time is not erased, but simply held, and there exist interstate agencies which ensure that justice can be served across state lines.
  2. Concealment of the Crime: If efforts are made to conceal the crime, this could potentially extend the time limit. If concealment is discovered and presented during your proceedings, however, that may lead to a more severe punishment, which can include jail time, a license suspension, and extended jail time.

What You’ve Learned

The statute of limitations for DUI in California plays a critical role in the legal process, balancing the need for timely prosecution with the protection of individual rights. Understanding this statute, along with its exceptions and implications, is essential for those navigating the complexities of DUI law in California.

If you have found yourself on the receiving end of a DUI/DWI charge, then use the form at the top of this page or call (800) 384-5297 for a free consultation.