What is the criminal statute of limitations for a DUI/DWI?

Statutes of limitations protect against the filing of charges after an extended period of time passes since the alleged offense occurred. The criminal statute of limitations for a DUI/DWI can vary by state and will depend on the degree of drunk driving and previous offenses. Please note that the criminal statute of limitations for a DUI/DWI does not protect you if a case has already been filed against you in court.

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 15, 2021

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Statutes of limitations on DUI prosecutions are designed to prevent “stale” prosecutions. Each state sets its own limits depending on the degree of drunk driving violation or on the possible sentences for the violations.

However, it is important to understand that a statute of limitations will not protect you if a case has already been filed against you in court. Statutes of limitations protect against the filing of charges an extended period of time after the alleged offense occurred.

Once the charges have been filed, if you fail to appear and answer the charges, a bench warrant will be issued for your arrest. A bench warrant will remain in effect until you have been arrested or turn yourself in to face the charges.

If you believe you may have a bench warrant for a DUI, contact a DUI lawyer. Avoiding the charges will likely make matters worse, and if you are perceived to be avoiding charges it may be more difficult to defend yourself and less likely that you will receive favorable concessions from the prosecution or judge, like offers of probation,

Misdemeanor DUI Statutes of Limitations:

  Statute of Limitations:

Statutes of limitations for misdemeanor DUI charges usually permit prosecutions for at least one year after the date of the offense, and sometimes longer. Misdemeanor drunk driving charges are generally restricted to first, second or third time DUI offenses without aggravating factors. However, in some states a third DUI or even a second DUI may result in a felony charge.

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Felony DUI Statutes of Limitations:

  Statute of Limitations:

Statutes of limitations for felony drunk driving charges are significantly longer than statutes for misdemeanor charges. If a death was involved, the DUI or DWI may also involve homicide charges, and these offenses typically have even longer statutes of limitations. Felony DUI charges are often the result of aggravating factors. Aggravating factors are circumstances that increase the seriousness of the DUI. Examples of aggravating factors include multiple charges for drunk driving or driving under the influence, causing an accident or injury, high blood alcohol (BAC) content, evading arrest, or the presence of a minor in the automobile. Missing a court date or attempting to hide or leave the state until the statute of limitations runs does not prevent prosecution. Once formal charges have been filed in the manner prescribed by the law of the state where the DUI occurred within the statute of limitations period, the statute of limitations period no longer provides a defense.

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