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What is a 'Statute Of Limitations'

A statute of limitations is a law which sets the maximum time that parties have to initiate legal proceedings from the date of an alleged offense. The length of time the statute allows for a victim to bring legal action against the alleged wrong-doer can vary from one jurisdiction to another. In general, the length of time allowed under a statute of limitations varies depending upon the severity of the offense. The more severe the offense, the longer the victim has to bring legal action. For example, breach of contract cases may only be brought within a few years after the event. However, cases involving serious crimes like murder typically have no maximum time period under a statute of limitations.

BREAKING DOWN 'Statute Of Limitations'

A statute of limitations is sometimes controversial due to cases where legal action cannot be brought against an offender because the maximum length of time has elapsed. Proponents of a statute of limitations argue that, for practical reasons, it is most equitable to limit the initiation of legal proceedings to a reasonable period after the event. As time goes on, important evidence may be lost and the memories of witnesses can grow foggy. Legal proceedings brought under these circumstances may not be fair to all parties.

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