I was reading this interesting article by Bruce Schneier, where he explains how a notorious hacker called Kevin Mitnick "hacked" California Law in 1983 by researching the statute of limitations on his crimes and avoiding prison.

I noticed the following comment on the article:

No, his attorney was just a bad attorney. Statutes of limitations toll, but jurisdiction is an absolute bar; it does not toll. A competent attorney would know that.

I was curious if this were true, and whether someone could explain the difference between the statute of limitations (which can be tolled whilst someone has a warrant) and jurisdiction absolute bar?

2 Answers 2


The distinction being made here is far more subtle than it is made out to be in the article.

There is a whole cottage industry of case law in almost every state (and under federal law) to determine which deadlines are jurisdictional and which are not. The case law is not uniform nationwide, and often, it isn't even consistent in seemingly analogous circumstances in a single state. The analysis is also more results driven than it is logical.

And, it isn't unheard of for a state supreme court to decide that a deadline that lower courts have called jurisdictional for decades, but that the state supreme court has never had an occasion to consider, isn't jurisdictional after all and can be tolled. I've seen it happen more than once (although I don't have citations to those cases easily at hand).

There may be practical importance to a parole officer deciding that the deadline has run. This might prevent the issue from ever being litigated.

But, the person quoted in the article on that point is a non-lawyer government civil servant who isn't the person who will make the final call if the issue were ever litigated, something that would instead be handled by a senior lawyer in the California Attorney General's office.

The author, like a lot of IT professionals and engineers, expects the law to be more consistent, logical, and predictable than it really is, and it so happens that this time he got lucky in his own case, so he thinks he's an expert.

  • So jurisdiction is when it's handled by lower courts, but if it goes to whichever state's supreme court and is ruled upon then it becomes a statute of limitations which can be tolled when someone has a warrant? Commented Feb 6, 2023 at 21:47
  • 3
    @user5623335 A jurisdictional deadline is one that can't be extended because the trial court lacks the power to extend it. But whether something is a jurisdictional deadline or a non-jurisdictional statute of limitations that can be tolls is a close legal issue that goes either way on a case by case, state by state basis. It is not, as claimed, an obvious question that any good lawyer can easily resolve with certainty. He did not have a bad attorney as he claims.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Feb 6, 2023 at 22:01
  • Makes sense. I still think the attorney is bad for flat out saying NO instead of saying MAYBE and doing research? Commented Feb 6, 2023 at 23:34

someone could explain the difference between the statute of limitations (which can be tolled whilst someone has a warrant) and jurisdiction absolute bar?

The comment you quote seemingly misapplies the term "absolute bar".

The statute of limitations determines for how long charges may be pressed (or claims may be filed, accordingly). Having commenced court proceedings, the question becomes whether the court has jurisdiction and, if so, at what point it would expire. A court's want of jurisdiction does not necessarily prevent a timely filed claim from moving forward. For instance, the case might be transferred to other court that does have jurisdiction.

Only a defendant may waive the statute of limitations (although generally that would be against his best interest). By contrast, there are constraints for a court to prevent its jurisdiction from expiring. For instance, Bailey v. Commonwealth, 858 S.E.2d 423, n.5-7 (2021) identifies "[the timely] entry of an order nunc pro tunc as exception" to the expiration of its jurisdiction. Likewise, "by entering an order that modifies, vacates, or suspends the previously entered final order [...] the circuit court retains jurisdiction to allow it additional time".

In some types of cases there are additional options for remedying or preempting the expiration of jurisdiction. In (unpublished) People v. Wells, 2002 IL App (5th) (Dec. 2022), "[t]he court found that there was no chance to work on rehabilitation before the expiration of the juvenile court's handling of the case" and "concluded that the defendant's case must be transferred to adult criminal court". The greatest weight is to be given to "the seriousness of the alleged offense and the minor's prior record of delinquency [...]. The State may also ask the juvenile to designate a case as an Extended Jurisdiction Juvenile Prosecution", Id.

The aforementioned options seem unwarranted or unavailable for the nonviolent crime to which the linked story refers. Also the story showcases how a diligent, skilled non-attorney can identify a decisive detail applicable to his own case, and which hitherto had been going unnoticed to a for-profit attorney who simultaneously represents a multitude of clients.

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