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Government Litigation White Collar Crime

Hidden ‘Time’ Bombs in White-Collar Criminal Matters

Part One of a Two-Part Article

What was once perceived as a straightforward limitation on the government’s significant enforcement powers has become obscured by statutes and court interpretations that tend to elongate the period for the government to act in ways that often are not transparent to even experienced criminal practitioners.

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Statutes of limitations establish time limits for the government to prosecute crimes. The clock usually starts ticking as soon as an offense is complete. These statutory deadlines have been a cornerstone of American criminal law since the time of the Founders. Their purpose, as the U.S. Supreme Court has explained, is “to protect individuals from having to defend themselves against charges when the basic facts may have become obscured by the passage of time and to minimize the danger of official punishment because of acts in the fardistant past.” Toussie v. United States, 397 U.S. 112, 11415 (1970). Statutes of limitations thus provide an important check on prosecutorial delay and unfairness.

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