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How Can a Prosecutor Pursue a Case Years After the Alleged Crime?


In Wisconsin, if a prosecutor plans to pursue a criminal case against an individual, they must do so within a specific time period – known as the statute of limitations. If they do not file a complaint for a case before the legal deadline, that case could be dismissed. The statute of limitations for prosecuting crimes is not uniform among all offenses; it varies depending on the type and level of crime. That’s why prosecution for some cases can begin years after the offense happened.

For instance, nine years ago, a Wisconsin man was found unconscious in his hotel room. Unfortunately, efforts to revive him were unsuccessful, and he died later of a heroin overdose.

Prior to the incident in his motel, the man had been seen entering a store with another person to buy drugs. The two men went back to their motel to inject the heroin. One of the men left, and when he returned to find the other man unconscious, he phoned the police.

A piece of a baggie that had heroin residue on it was found in the pocket of the deceased. In 2011, it was sent to a crime lab for DNA analysis. It wasn’t until 5 years later that analysts took a cell swab of the dealer the two men met with in 2010. When they compared the dealer’s sample with that found on the baggie, the analysts found a match.

Seven years after the Wisconsin man’s death, the dealer was charged with first-degree reckless homicide, which is a Class C felony. Under Wisconsin statute 940.02(2)(b), a person could be charged with this offense if they cause someone else’s death by administering or assisting a controlled substance – this is what’s referred to as a drug-induced homicide.

The man is set to appear in court in October of 2019.

So how was the State able to begin the case nearly a decade after the alleged offense occurred?

Statute of Limitations for Felonies

For most felonies, such as burglary or robbery, the prosecutor has only 6 years from the date of alleged crime to begin a case.

However, there is no statute of limitations for a handful of crimes, which include:

  • First-degree intentional homicide
  • First-degree reckless homicide
  • Felony murder
  • Second-degree intentional homicide
  • First-degree sexual assault
  • First-degree sexual assault of a child
  • Repeated acts of sexual assault against the same child

If a person is accused of even attempting to commit some offenses, such as first-degree reckless homicide and sexual assault, the State can commence prosecution at any time.

The prosecution has 15 years from the commission of second-degree reckless homicide to start a case, and they have 10 years after an alleged second-degree sexual assault offense to begin prosecution.

If DNA evidence is found that links a person to a crime, the statute of limitations could be extended for up to 1 year after the suspect was identified (if the felony had a set prosecution deadline).

Statute of Limitations for Misdemeanors

For misdemeanors, prosecution could begin up to 3 years after the date of the commission of the crime.

The Law Offices of Christopher J. Cherella: Offering Legal Advice 24/7

If you were charged with a crime, our attorney can examine every detail of your situation to determine whether or not the prosecutor has a legal right to pursue your case. When you retain our services, we will provide zealous and focused representation to work toward a favorable outcome on your behalf.

Discuss your circumstances with us today by calling (414) 882-8382 or schedule a free consultation by filling out an online contact form.

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