Reform of the statute of limitations in criminal cases

- Newsletter

Law No. 2017-242 of 27 February 2017 has radically changed the statute of limitations applicable to criminal prosecution. The flagship measure of this new law is the doubling of the limitation period. It also introduced fixed deadlines for clandestine offenses.

The law, moreover, defines clandestine offenses. Such offenses are either hidden offenses or concealed offenses. The first is defined as “the offense which, because of its constituent elements, cannot be known to the victim or to the judicial authority” (Article 9 (1) 4 CPP, the French Code of criminal procedure), whereas the second is defined as “the offense of which the perpetrator deliberately performs any characteristic maneuver aimed at preventing its discovery” (Article 9 (1) (5) CPP).

Finally, the law codified the jurisprudence regarding the interruption and suspension of limitation periods, thus making the Code of Criminal Procedure more readable and promoting legal certainty.

The new law is applicable from 1 March 2017, including for infringements committed before the entry into force of the law, unless the prescription period was already achieved before this date. However, the law introduces some fixed deadlines. Such deadlines shall only apply to infringements committed before 1 March 2017 from that date onwards.

Here is a general overview of major changes to the law. We are at your disposal for more specific questions.

Doubling of limitation periods for ordinary offenses:





Contravention1 year1 year
Offense 3 years6 years


10 years


20 years


The law, however, maintained derogatory time limits:



Offenses committed on minors10 years
Sexual aggression on minors


20 years







30 years


War crimes
Crimes against humanity


No limitation


The limitation periods for terrorism, drug trafficking and war crimes, which were previously subject to the 10-year period, have been extended to 30 years.

The starting point of the time limit remains fixed on the day of the infringement. But the law provides two exceptions:

  • In case of an offense against a minor, the period begins to run from the age of majority;
  • For clandestine offenses, the period begins to run from the discovery of the offense, but the law introduces a 12 – year fixed deadline for offenses (30 years for crimes), that start running from the committing of the infraction. Example: a deception committed in 2002 is discovered in 2010. In principle, the limitation period of 6 years, begins in 2010. But the fixed deadline prevents any action against the deceiver beyond 2014.

Case law has also been broadly codified as regards the interruption or suspension of the limitation period.

Concerning interrupting acts of the limitation period, the new Article 9-2 of the French Code of criminal procedure now lists a number of acts that will have an interruptive effect: acts of the public prosecutor’s office, acts of the civil party, investigative acts, judgments etc. Previously, only investigation or prosecution acts were concerned.

Whenever a limitation period is interrupted, a new period of time equal to the initial period begins to run.

Legal or factual obstacles suspend the limitation period. Legal obstacles must be provided by law, whereas the factual obstacle is defined as “any insurmountable obstacle that can be assimilated to force majeure” (Article 9 (3) CPP). In both cases, the initiation of public action must have been rendered impossible by the obstacle.