Embezzlement is a crime in which funds are unlawfully appropriated by someone who is trusted to care for them but does not own them. This crime can have devastating financial consequences for an individual or business. Charges for embezzlement are frequently subject to a statute of limitations, which sets a time limit on how long a victim has to report the crime and start legal proceedings. The embezzlement statute of limitations varies regionally depending on applicable laws, the amount embezzled, and the use of the discovery rule.
There are several reasons why there is a statute of limitations for embezzlement. First, courts often want to preserve the idea that justice needs to be relevant to the current situation. Embezzlement that happened 30 years ago may have little effect on the state of affairs today, and therefore, it might be construed as a miscarriage of justice to pursue a case so long in the past. Second, it prevents plaintiffs who have long known about the situation and ignored it from bringing embezzlement charges as a means of revenge or retaliation years down the line. Additionally, a statute of limitations serves as an encouragement for people to keep their affairs well managed in order to identify unlawful appropriations quickly.
The embezzlement statute of limitations varies, depending on the region and the type of embezzlement committed. In general, most regions set a time limit of between three and five years. In some places, embezzling public money is not subject to the statute of limitations and can be pursued at any point in the future.
There is often some question about when the time clock for the embezzlement of limitations should begin. Many regions employ a legal concept known as the discovery law to give plaintiffs the fairest chance of pursuing justice. The law suggests that the time clock should be started when the crime is discovered by the plaintiff, rather than when the crime occurs. This rule allows for the fact that embezzlers may be extremely crafty in executing their crimes, and may be able to conceal evidence of their theft for months or even years.
Regions that employ the discovery law usually have an upper limit beyond which even discovery can be deemed too late; for instance, in a place with an embezzlement statute of limitations of three years from discovery or occurrence of the crime, whatever is later, a discovery of crime made after ten years would probably still be inadmissible. In the event that a discovery within the statute of limitations leads to revelations that the crime has been going on since well before the limit, the court may decide to consider the whole length of the embezzlement or only the portion that falls within the time limit.