Pennsylvania’s criminal statute of limitations for insurance fraud is five years from the date of the alleged act per 42 Pa.C.S. § 5552. This statute of limitations imposes deadlines by which prosecutors must file charges. You may have a valid statute of limitations defense if the Commonwealth moves forward with its case after this period.
In this article, our Philadelphia insurance fraud defense lawyers share how the statute of limitations works, its purpose and history, penalties that could apply to insurance fraud charges, and using a statute of limitations defense. Shuttleworth Law wrote this post for people arrested on insurance fraud charges or their concerned loved ones.
How the Insurance Fraud Statute of Limitations Works
The insurance fraud statute of limitations works like a ticking time clock, counting toward a specific deadline. In the case of insurance fraud, the time clock ticks for five years, starting from the date of your alleged criminal act. Once the alarm goes off, you are no longer criminally liable for insurance fraud.
Below, we have outlined six events that affect PA’s insurance fraud statute of limitations in a criminal matter:
- You allegedly committed an insurance fraud crime on a specific date
- Prosecutors believe they have sufficient evidence to prove this fact
- PA laws impose a five-year statute of limitations on insurance fraud crimes
- Prosecutors must file charges against you before this period expires
- The time clock begins ticking from the date of the last alleged criminal act
- Charges filed after this date may allow you to use a statute of limitations defense
An exception to this rule exists. The concept of “tolling” the statute of limitations could extend the timeline by which you could face charges, as discussed below.
Tolling the Statute
Tolling the statute of limitations means the time clock pauses until another event occurs. In some cases, it is advantageous for prosecutors to toll the insurance fraud statute of limitations in certain situations.
Per 42 Pa.C.S. § 5554, the following circumstances could allow them to toll the statute to effectively bring a prosecution past five years:
- Physically leaving the Commonwealth of PA for a continuous period
- Same-conduct prosecutions are pending within the Commonwealth
- The crime caused injuries to a child under 18 years of age
Even if prosecutors decide to toll the statute in your case, their argument may be erroneous or misapplied. An insurance fraud defense attorney in Pennsylvania will determine if they violated your rights in this manner. If so, we will preserve evidence of their violation and present our findings before a judge for their ruling.
Purpose of the Criminal Statute of Limitations
The criminal statute of limitations exists to protect the integrity of jury trials. You should not have to face the prospect of criminal charges indefinitely. Also, physical evidence can be destroyed, and witness memories may fade, both contributing to the inaccuracy of the prosecutor’s allegations if they bring charges so long after the commission of an offense.
Statute of Limitations History
Statutes of limitations have been around since ancient Greece (700-480 BC). These laws were also codified by ancient Romans (625 BC-47 AD). After that, statutes of limitations were incorporated into common law and, later, English law. However, the U.S. did not begin codifying statutes of limitations until the 17th century.
Today, our legal system recognizes statutes of limitations for criminal and civil matters. Some crimes and violations have no time limit, which is often the case with murder and other capital offenses.
Penalties for Insurance Fraud in PA
Prosecutors charge insurance fraud under 18 Pa.C.S. § 4117 (a)(1) through (a)(8). The statute defines this type of crime as an act where you “knowingly and with the intent to defraud” you made “false, incomplete, or misleading information” in specific situations. It classifies and grades insurance fraud as a third-degree felony.
If prosecutors get an insurance fraud conviction, you could face the following:
- Up to seven years in prison
- Up to $15,000 in fines
- Loss of certain civil rights
- Victim restitution
- Collateral consequences
- Civil litigation
- A felony criminal record
- Other penalties under the law
These penalties are severe and commensurate with felony-level consequences. Never accept responsibility for an unproven, unsubstantiated crime, even if prosecutors appear confident. They may have committed an error at some point, which could be discovered through an independent investigation conducted by your defense attorney.
Using a Statute of Limitations Defense
You might have a valid statute of limitations defense if prosecutors file charges after five years. This type of defense is known as an affirmative defense. In criminal law, an affirmative defense argues that you should not be held criminally liable for insurance fraud since you were not prosecuted within the statute’s timeframe, even if prosecutors have proven their allegations.
Motions For Dismissal
Under Rule 587 of the Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure, your insurance fraud defense lawyer could file a Motion For Dismiss, a pre-trial motion asking a judge to dismiss the case. We will file this motion based on “Untimely filing of information.” The Pennsylvania Superior Court has held that the proper time in which a defendant should file a Motion to Dismiss based on the statute of limitations is pre-trial. Comm. v. Corban Corp., 909 A.2d 406, 411 (Pa. Super. 2006).
Time Limits May Apply to Affirmative Defenses
Affirmative defenses should be raised during the pre-trial phase of a criminal matter. If you do not assert a valid affirmative defense at that time, you might waive your right to introduce it at a jury trial.
Discuss Your Options with Insurance Fraud Defense Lawyers
Statute of limitations defenses do not work for every case when certain conditions are present. Several other rules may apply to your specific insurance fraud charges. As such, you may have legal options outside of an affirmative defense that clears your name.
The only definitive way to defend your case is by seeking legal advice and retaining representation from a Pennsylvania criminal defense firm, like Shuttleworth Law. If you hire our legal team to represent you in court, we will put over two decades of experience, resources, and knowledge behind your defense and look for every opportunity to secure a favorable outcome.