As you may know, for most federal criminal charges, there exists a statute of limitations. A statute of limitations is a period of time after an alleged act within which a criminal prosecutor must bring charges. If the charges are not brought by the time the statute of limitations expires, the suspect cannot generally be prosecuted for the alleged act.
A good example of this, particularly as today is tax day, is the statute of limitations on federal criminal tax fraud charges. There are a number of reasons for statutes of limitation, one being basic fairness. Most individuals would find it exceedingly difficult to defend themselves against allegations that they committed tax fraud decades ago. The suspect and other potential witnesses would likely not remember the circumstances surrounding the incident and potentially exculpatory evidence and other relevant documents may no longer be available.
For criminal tax fraud matters investigated by the Criminal Investigation Division (CID) of the IRS, the statute of limitations is generally six years. There are, however, a number of exceptions that can extend this length of time. If conspiracy is suspected, the limitations period can be extended. Furthermore, the expiration of the criminal statute of limitations will not block a civil fraud action by the IRS.
It would be much simpler if there was a single statute of limitations period that always applied to criminal tax fraud cases. But depending on the nature of the charges and how the time is measured the answer can change. While complicated, the application of the statute of limitations to specific charges can be a crucial factor criminal tax fraud cases.
Source: Wall Street Journal, “When Can Tax Cheats Relax?” April 13, 2012