A statute of limitations is a statutory limitation on the prosecution of an offense if the formal prosecution is not commenced, usually by return of an indictment or filing of an information, within a specified period after the completion of the offense. Statutes of limitations have been said to be a defendant's primary safeguard against the possibility of prejudice from preaccusation delay. See United States v. Lovasco, 431 U.S. 783, 789 (1977).
A statute of limitations establishes an arbitrary cutoff point; no showing of prejudice is required. Thus, a statute of limitations defense is fundamentally distinct from a claim that a pre-indictment delay violated due process, which involves an evaluation of the reason for the delay and any prejudice to the accused. Lovasco, supra. Statutes of limitations should also be distinguished from post-accusation rights to promptness, such as the constitutional right to a speedy trial and rights under the Speedy Trial Act. Compare JM 9-17.000 (JM Chapter on the Speedy Trial Act).
[cited in JM 9-18.000]