The general rule is that a statute of limitations begins to run when a crime is complete.16 A crime is complete when every element of the offense is satisfied.17 “Absent a statute providing otherwise, a period of limitation runs without interruption from the time the offense is committed until the prosecution is commenced.”18
Some courts have recognized that, when an offense is a continuing one, the period of limitation does not begin to run until after the defendant’s activities end.19
A “continuous offense” or “continuing offense” is a continuous, unlawful act or series of acts set in motion by a single impulse and operated by unintermittent force; it is a breach of criminal law, not terminated by a single act or fact, but subsisting for a definite period and intended to cover or apply to successive similar obligations or occurrences.20
In Toussie v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court considered whether failure to register for the draft was a continuing violation that would extend the statute of limitations for the offense.21 The Court held that it was not. In reaching this decision, the Court articulated two factors to consider in analyzing whether an offense should be considered a continuing violation. The Court first noted that, in general, a statute of limitations should be liberally interpreted in favor of closure for an accused.22 Second, the Court stated that where a criminal statute of limitation prescribes a specific limitations periodfor particular crimes, the particular offense should not be considered a continuing one “unless the explicit language of the substantive criminal statute compels such a conclusion, or the nature of the crime involved is such that Congress must assuredly have intended that it be treated as a continuing one.”23
The Toussie case has been followed in Minnesota.24 In State v. Lawrence, the Minnesota Supreme Court determined that either concealing or possessing stolen goods is a continuing offense for the purpose of the statute of limitations for the crime of receiving stolen property because the words “concealing” and “possessing” contain “the notion that property is being kept from someone in violation of a duty to return and this duty to return continues.”25
This and any related posts have been adopted from the Minnesota House of Representatives Research Department’s Information Brief, Criminal Statutes of Limitations, written by legislative analyst Rebecca Pirius.
This post is part of a series of posts on Criminal Statutes of Limitations in Minnesota.
16 See Toussie v. United States, 397 U.S. 112, 115 (1970) (citing Pendergast v. United States, 317 U.S. 412, 418 (1943); see also State v. Danielski, 348 N.W.2d 352, 355 (Minn. App. 1984), pet. for rev. denied (July 26, 1984) (citing Toussie, 397 U.S. 112, 115-116 (1970)).
17 See e.g., Model Penal Code § 1.06 (4).18 1 CHARLES E. TORCIA, WHARTON’S CRIMINAL LAW, § 96 (15th ed. 1993).
19 See ROBINSON, supra note 1 at 467; see also 21 Am. Jur. 2d § 298 (observing that, “in crimes of this nature, the statute of limitations does not begin to run from the occurrence of the initial act, which may in itself embody all the elements of the crime, but from the occurrence of the most recent act, or until such course of conduct terminates.”).
20 21 Am. Jur. 2d § 298.
21 Toussie, 397 U.S. at 122. 22 See id. at 115.
24 See State v. Lawrence, 312 N.W.2d 251, 255 (Minn. 1981); see also Danielski, 348 N.W.2d at 355.
25 Lawrence, 312 N.W.2d at 253; c.f. Sargent v. Tahash, 160 N.W.2d 139, 141 (Minn. 1968) (holding that the crime of child abandonment or desertion is a continuing offense because “the offense is committed not by an overt act but by omission or neglect, and the offense continues so long as the neglect continues without excuse”); Danielski, 348 N.W.2d at 356 (holding that criminal sexual acts against a child that involved elements of coercion by one in authority was a continuing violation and the statute of limitations did not begin to run until the child is no longer subject to that authority). But see State v. French, 392 N.W.2d 596, 598 (Minn. Ct. App. 1986) (limiting the Danielski rule and holding that where the defendant does not control the day-to-day activities of a child victim of criminal sexual conduct, the limitation period is not tolled).