Former President Donald Trump pleaded not guilty on April 4 to 34 felony charges tied to hush money payments.
Trump is accused of falsifying business records to conceal criminal conduct connected to his 2016 presidential campaign from February to December 2017 – more than five years ago.
Some people on social media have argued that the case should be thrown out because there is a five-year statute of limitations for the felony charges in New York. Several VERIFY readers, including Sarah, have also asked whether the statute of limitations has expired in this case.
Can New York’s five-year statute of limitations for felonies be extended in some cases?
Yes, New York’s five-year statute of limitations for felonies can be extended in some cases.
WHAT WE FOUND
Statutes of limitations are time limits in which a prosecutor must bring criminal charges in a case. Those time limits vary by state and the severity of the crime.
The statute of limitations for most felonies in New York is five years, including the charges of falsifying business records that Trump is facing. There are exceptions to this time limit for certain crimes such as first-degree murder and rape, which do not have statutes in the state.
Generally, the statute of limitations starts when the crime occurs, according to attorney and Nolo legal editor Rebecca Pirius. That means a prosecutor would have five years from that date to bring felony charges against someone in New York.
But there are some exceptions that extend the statute of limitations for charges in New York, legal experts told VERIFY.
The statute of limitations is “tolled,” or paused, when the defendant is not continuously present in the state, Paul Schiff Berman, a law professor at The George Washington University, said.
This exception is explicitly stated in New York law:
In calculating the time limitation applicable to commencement of a criminal action, the following periods shall not be included:
(a) Any period following the commission of the offense during which (i) the defendant was continuously outside this state or (ii) the whereabouts of the defendant were continuously unknown and continuously unascertainable by the exercise of reasonable diligence. However, in no event shall the period of limitation be extended by more than five years beyond the period otherwise applicable under subdivision two.
The prosecution may argue in Trump’s case that he was continuously out of New York while he served as president from 2017 to 2021, CUNY School of Law professor Jeffrey Kirchmeier said.
Schiff Berman said former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo also issued an executive order that paused all statutes of limitations in New York for about seven months during the COVID-19 pandemic. There are legal arguments that the pause was actually longer, due to the language used in the executive order.
VERIFY reached out to Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office for comment but did not receive a reply.