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The main reason why the statute of limitations is approached is that it is appropriate in terms of the effect of the sentence to impose it as soon as possible after the commission of the offence. Only then can punishment fulfil its preventive and educational role. Delayed punishment is of much less significance both for society and for the offender himself. This is compounded by the difficulty of proving the facts in cases involving years. However, it is important to distinguish how serious the offence was. Surely one cannot ‘pardon’ shoplifting and grievous bodily harm at the same time.
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Length of the limitation period
The individual offences therefore have penalties set according to their severity and different statutes of limitation. And different statutes of limitation apply even to the same offence. Thus, we cannot speak generally of a “statute of limitations for murder”. In the present case, it would be necessary to distinguish whether, for example, the murder of a pregnant woman was a crime for which the law allows the imposition of an exceptional penalty and the limitation period would thus be thirty years. If there is no similar serious circumstance (and the offence is therefore a crime with a limit of at least ten years), then the limitation period is fifteen years. The law further provides for a limitation period of ten, five and three years for various offences depending on their gravity.
Running of the limitation period
Thestatute of limitations generally begins to run from the time of the commission of the offence. Criminal law theory distinguishes certain specific cases, such as continuing offences, in which case the running of the period would only start from the end of the activity in question. For example, in the case of embezzlement, where each month the sales clerk would “adjust” the sales in the store, the statute of limitations would not run from the first such event, but rather from the last. Even if such activity lasted for many years, it would be viewed as a whole, both in terms of punishment and in terms of the statute of limitations. Similarly, the statute of limitations would apply to a continuing offence where the unlawful condition (for example, restraint of liberty) continues. Here, too, it is not when the restriction of liberty occurred that is relevant to the commencement of the limitation period, but rather how long and until when it lasted. Furthermore, we can encounter offences where the effect that has occurred is decisive in terms of punishment. For the crime of murder, in theory, a physical attack on another person on a particular day may occur. However, if the person does not succumb to his injuries until several days later, it is that moment that will be decisive for us.
Thelimitation period is interrupted if one of the reasons listed in the law occurs, which are, for example, the initiation of prosecution or taking into custody. The interruption also occurs when the offender commits any other offence for which the Criminal Code provides for the same or a more severe penalty.
Tip An interruption of the limitation period means that the limitation period that has been counted so far loses its meaning and a new limitation period starts to run.
It is necessary to distinguish from the above the so-called limitation period, where a situation arises in which a certain period of time is not included in the limitation period, however, the time that has elapsed so far remains valid and is added after the removal of the obstacle in question. This is the case, for example, where the offender cannot be brought to trial at the time because of diplomatic immunity or serious illness. Other similar grounds are provided for in the Criminal Law and the Code of Criminal Procedure.
Limitation periods for individual offences
Other offences also have different limitation periods depending on the seriousness of the particular offence. For example, the statute of limitations for the crime of tax evasion may be five, ten or even 15 years, depending on the amount of damage caused and the level of punishment imposed. In a situation where a taxpayer evades tax over several tax periods, the elements of a continuing offence may be fulfilled.
In the case of the offence of fraud, the limitation period is derived according to the damage caused (and the amount of the threatened penalty) as follows:
- Damage not insignificant (more than CZK 5,000), penalty up to 2 years, limitation period 3 years
- Repeated fraud with damage not insignificant, penalty up to 3 years, limitation period 5 years
- Greater damage (50-500 thousand crowns), penalty up to 5 years, limitation period 10 years
- Significant damage (0.5 – 5 million crowns), penalty up to 8 years, limitation period 10 years
- Damage of large scale (5 million crowns and more), penalty up to 10 years, limitation period 15 years
Exceptions to the statute of limitations
The statute of limitations applies to all criminal offences except those specifically listed in the Criminal Code. These include, for example, the crime of treason, terrorist attack, genocide or attack against humanity. In terms of the values protected by the Criminal Code, these are the most serious crimes.
Tip: We have discussed how the different crimes are divided and what characterises them in a separate article.
As with misdemeanors, there are two types of statute of limitations in criminal law: the statute of limitations on criminal liability, which is described above, and the statute of limitations on the enforcement of a sentence, which occurs more rarely. In the case of the statute of limitations on the enforcement of a sentence, this is a situation in which criminal proceedings have taken place but the sentence has not been enforced for some reason. In such a case, the sentence imposed will no longer be executed if five, ten, twenty or thirty years have elapsed, depending on the length of the sentence.