DUI Statute of Limitations: Can You Be Charged Days Later?
A few months ago, you were pulled over. The officer gave you a standard field sobriety test, then arrested you on suspicion of driving under the influence (DUI) and brought you into the station. The next day, they let you go. But now, you’ve received a notice that charges are being filed. Sound familiar?
Charges being filed months or years later can come as a real shock, but are not uncommon. Due to the DUI statute of limitations, you weren’t home free like you thought. Let’s learn more about this legal concept and how it could affect your case.
What Is a Statute of Limitations?
In criminal cases, a statute of limitations is the amount of time the state’s prosecutors have to file charges against you. These limitations are set by law at the state level, and the time limit will vary based on the severity of the crime. For example, in Oklahoma, the statute of limitations is three years for kidnapping, 10 years for manslaughter – and there is no limit for murder charges.
What Is the DUI Statute of Limitations?
The statute of limitations for DUI in Oklahoma is three years. That means you can no longer be prosecuted if three years have passed since your arrest for DUI; or, if you weren’t arrested, since the alleged DUI incident occurred. The same limitations apply to actual physical control charges.
Can You Be Charged With a DUI Days Later?
Yes. Because the DUI statute of limitations is three years, you can be charged with this crime days, weeks, and even months later. In fact, it’s pretty common, because an arrest and a charge are separate events. When you’re arrested for a DUI, it’s usually on “probable cause,” meaning the officer has reason to believe you were committing a crime. They do not need to prove you committed the crime to arrest you.
Once you’re booked into jail, you’ll go before a judge within a few days for your arraignment, which is when you’re officially charged. Or, if the state doesn’t feel they have enough evidence to charge you, they may release you from jail. But that doesn’t mean you’re out of the woods. It’s possible they’re building a case against you, and you could still be charged at any point within three years.
Why Would the State Wait to File Charges?
It’s not unusual for the prosecutor to wait to file charges in a DUI case. Some of the most common reasons are:
- You took a blood test: If you’re arrested on suspicion of DUI-Drugs, or if the officer wants to have a backup for a breathalyzer test, you might have to take a blood test. There are strict rules for taking and processing a blood test in Oklahoma, and it can take several months to get the results.
- Other charges are involved: If your case isn’t a straightforward misdemeanor DUI, like if you had a child in the car, damaged property, or caused serious injury or death, it can take time for the prosecutor to build a case and decide on the charges.
- Backlog: Sometimes the delay is simply an administrative backlog. Staffing issues, a lot of cases coming in at once, and prioritizing more serious cases can all mean a delay in your DUI charge.
How an Attorney Can Help You Fight a Delayed DUI Charge
Are you facing a charge for an alleged DUI that happened months or even years ago? Here are the scenarios where you’ll want an experienced DUI attorney on your side.
If the DUI Statute of Limitations Has Passed
Sometimes the state will still charge you even if it’s been more than three years since your alleged DUI happened. If this happens, you’ll need to go to court to have the case dismissed. It won’t happen automatically, so don’t make the mistake of ignoring the charge. Your attorney will investigate the charges, gather proof that the DUI statute of limitations has passed, and present it to the court for dismissal.
If You’re Within the DUI Statute of Limitations
If the state charges you within three years of your alleged offense, it will be more difficult to get your case dismissed. You may be able to earn a dismissal based on the state’s “failure to prosecute” in a timely manner, but this is harder to prove in court.
Under the Sixth Amendment, you have the right to a speedy trial and the right to know “the nature of the charges and evidence against you” so that you can properly defend yourself. If the state takes months or years to charge you, you may have an argument that you can’t properly defend yourself, for example because:
- Dash camera footage of the incident has been destroyed.
- Your blood sample has been destroyed, preventing you from doing your own independent testing.
- The breathalyzer is no longer in use, so you can’t test it for proper calibration or get maintenance records.
Aside from dismissal, you’ll have similar options as with any DUI case: pleading to a deferred sentence or suspended sentence, or going to trial. An experienced attorney will know how to build your defense despite any of the above situations – or even use them to your advantage to poke holes in the state’s case.
The Bottom Line
You can be charged with a DUI days later – or even months later. It’s always smart to retain an attorney as soon as you have a DUI-related run-in with the law, even if you weren’t arrested or charged at the time. Whether or not the DUI statute of limitations has passed, an attorney can help you track your case and figure out the best next steps. Contact the Tulsa DUI Guy for a free case evaluation, and we’ll take it from there.