In Iowa, there exists what is referred to as a statute of limitations. It places a limit on the amount of time prosecutors have to bring charges in a criminal matter. If a prosecutor misses the deadline, the case may be dismissed.
The statute of limitations isn't the same for all crimes. However, for most felonies and misdemeanors, the State must begin prosecution within 1 to 3 years of the alleged offense. Shoplifting can be a misdemeanor or a felony. Thus, based on the statute of limitations, you could be charged with the offense weeks after you allegedly committed. In fact, depending on your circumstances, you could face charges even years later.
Iowa's Shoplifting Law
Shoplifting occurs when a person takes merchandise from a retail store, without permission, without paying for it, and without the intent to return it to the establishment.
Iowa does not have a specific shoplifting law. Instead, the offense is considered a theft crime, which is when someone unlawfully takes another person's property with the intent to deprive them of it.
Five Degrees of Theft
Before discussing the specific amount of time a prosecutor has to bring charges in your shoplifting case, we'll look at how the offense is charged.
Iowa law enumerates five degrees of theft. The degree to which you may be charged for shoplifting depends on the value of the item you allegedly took. The value (and, thereby, the degree) also determines whether you will be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony.
The five degrees of theft are charges as follows:
- First degree: When the value of the item exceeds $10,000. This is a class "C" felony.
- Second degree: When the value of the property is more than $1,500 but not more than $10,000. This is a class "D" felony.
- Third degree: When the value of the item exceeds $750 but does not exceed $1,500. This is an aggravated misdemeanor.
- Fourth degree: When the value of the property is more than $300 but not more than $750. This is a serious misdemeanor.
- Fifth degree: When the value of the item does not exceed $300. This is a simple misdemeanor.
Statute of Limitations for Felonies and Misdemeanor
Under Iowa Code 802.3, the statute of limitations for felonies and aggravated or serious misdemeanors is 3 years. What this means is that if you are accused of shoplifting something worth over $300, the State can pursue your case within 3 years of the alleged offense. It's important to note that, although there are different classes of felonies, those categories don't get factored into the statute of limitations, meaning a class "C" felony doesn't have a longer deadline than a class "D" felony even though it's considered a more serious offense.
Now, if you were accused of taking something valued at $300 or less, you could be charged with a simple misdemeanor, and the State can take action in your case within 1 year of the alleged crime.
Why Does Iowa Have a Statute of Limitations Law?
In criminal matters, defendants have the right to a fair trial. If it takes a considerably long time for the State to begin prosecution, evidence can be lost, deteriorated, or destroyed. This means that a person can be convicted based on weak or faulty evidence. Therefore, statutes of limitations are in place to prevent such from happening and protect the rights of the accused.
If you've been charged with a theft crime in Des Moines, contact Branstad & Olson at (515) 329-3100 for aggressive defense from a team that will seek a favorable result on your behalf.