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Tuesday, 21 November 2017 15:25

The criminal complaint interrupts the prescription in the civil field

The crimes prescribe. This means that after a certain time the responsibility of the one who committed it expires, it ends.

This period of prescription of the offense begins to count from the day in which the act was committed. In case of continued or habitual crimes, the limitation period shall be computed from the day on which the last infringement was made.

The existence of the prescription of crimes is based on the fact that, after a reasonable period of time since the offense has been committed without the offender being punished, the penalty would no longer fulfill its purpose of prevention and reeducation of the accused.

Spanish laws do not establish a single limitation period for crimes, but distinguish different periods depending on the maximum penalty provided.


However, the expiration of an offense committed in the civil sphere can be annulled or interrupted by filing a criminal complaint. This is established by the Spanish Civil Code: "the complaint in criminal proceedings is a form of exercise of civil action before the courts and interrupts the prescription in accordance with the provisions of Article 1983 of the Civil Code."

The legal norm establishes, then, that even in case of dismissal, that is to say, even when a cause is suspended due to lack of evidence, the civil claim will remain open.

Example of these situations, are generally presented when economic claims are made in which elements that can be included in the criminal sphere are mixed: misappropriations, frauds, frauds or corporate crimes. The affected person makes the criminal complaint, to avoid that the civil offense prescribes and as a means of achieving financial compensation.


In what argument is this precept maintained? In the fact that, since the filing of the complaint in criminal proceedings, the action and criminal process are underway and promoted. When the judge presumes that a suspect has participated in a criminal act that is being investigated or is going to be investigated, the statute of limitations for the civil case involving that person is automatically interrupted.

A clear example is the process that occurred due to an accident that a young man had in an amusement park, an accident that caused serious injuries. His family made the request for the corresponding compensation to the insurance company. The insurer refused.

 Faced with this refusal, the lawyer of the young victim filed a criminal complaint against the insurance company, but the case was dismissed in the judicial area.

 Two years after the accident, the family filed a civil suit against the company, but again the claim was dismissed. It was understood that the crime had been prescribed, since two years had elapsed since the victim's definitive discharge.

Faced with this situation, the family filed a cassation appeal. A claim submitted to the Supreme Court against final judgments in which laws are considered infringed or procedural guarantees violated. And this time, the Supreme Court understood the arguments of the appeal valid. The criminal complaint that had been made before, interrupted the prescription in the civil field. The proceedings went back to the court that had dismissed the case so that it could rule on the fact itself, as it had not prescribed the liability of the insurer.

In short: a criminal complaint that refers to the same matter, interrupts the civil limitation period, even if it is dismissed.

Writings SF Lawyers