Recently, the High Anti-Corruption Court has closed the criminal proceedings on the false declaration of MP Mykhailo Zabrodskyi due to the expiration of the statute of limitations.
The court had only 1 month and 3 days to consider this proceeding. The fact is that his case was referred to the HACC on February 3, 2023, and he committed the misdemeanor, according to the prosecution, on March 6, 2021.
Therefore, the court did not have time to consider the case and render a verdict because it did not have enough time. We decided to figure out why there are statutes of limitations for bringing to criminal responsibility.
What is the statute of limitations?
The statute of limitations for criminal prosecution is a period of time after which a person can no longer be held liable. It is counted from the day when the person committed the crime.
Statutes of limitations differ depending on how serious the crime is and the punishment for it. For example, if a person has committed a criminal offense for which the punishment is less severe than the restriction of freedom, then the law enforcement agencies and the court have two years to investigate and consider such a case.
But if we are talking about abuse of office, which caused serious consequences, then the statute of limitations will be 10 years. An example is the case of the former Minister of Infrastructure Andrii Pyvovarskyi — according to the investigation, he and his deputy caused losses of more than USD 30 mln in 2015.
However, there are exceptions. There is no statute of limitations for crimes against the fundamentals of national security of Ukraine, against the peace and security of mankind and torture. And if the crime was committed against a minor/underage person, the statute of limitations begins to be counted from the moment of age of majority.
Why are there such statutes of limitations?
The statute of limitations exists because over time, the offense loses its relevance, and the social danger from the person becomes less acute. At the same time, law enforcement agencies and courts are motivated to work faster on cases.
In addition, evidence in cases may become incomplete over time (for example, witnesses will forget important details). Therefore, statutes of limitations help prevent violations of the rights of defendants in court.
There are only two options for applying the statute of limitations for criminal prosecution:
- exemption from criminal liability (Article 49 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine);
- exemption from punishment (Article 74, part 5 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine).
A significant difference between them is that in the first case, the court does not officially condemn a person with all the consequences.
When does the statute of limitations begin?
The starting point of the statute of limitations is the day when a person committed a criminal offense.
If the person was preparing for a crime or made an attempt on it, the countdown begins from the day when the offense is terminated for reasons independent of the person. For example, if they are exposed by law enforcement agencies.
What will happen if one hides from the investigation or the court?
In such cases, the calculation of the statute of limitations is stopped. And the countdown will resume only when a person appears with a confession or is detained. But if a person hides for 15 years, they can also be exempted from criminal liability because there is no statute of limitations for more than 15 years.
If, before the expiration of the statute of limitations, a person has committed a new crime of medium gravity, then the statute of limitations begins to be counted anew. If there are several crimes, then statutes of limitations for them are calculated separately.
Thus, the statute of limitations exists to ensure that a person does not remain “in suspension” for a long time. For example, if suddenly the investigation of the theft in the supermarket of 30 years ago begins. After all, there are doubts whether the consideration of this crime will be appropriate and necessary in the society.
In addition, it is an incentive for law enforcement agencies and courts to meet reasonable deadlines. Although this may not always play in favor of the victims and the interests of the state as a whole.
The statute of limitations exists to ensure that a person does not remain “in suspension” for a long time. After all, there are doubts whether the consideration of this crime will be appropriate and necessary in the society, for example, if it is a theft in a supermarket that took place 30 years ago.