The cases specifying the modalities of the termination of the public action are envisaged in article 6 of the code of penal procedure.

Legal cases of termination of public action

The death of the accused

Penal prescription

Common law deadlines for penal prescriptions:

Crimes: 10 years

Misdemeanors: 3 years

Tickets: 1 year

But the legal exceptions are very numerous, in particular in terms of:

  • Press (articles 65 and 65-3 of the law of July 29, 1881);
  • Taxes (Articles 1741 A of the General Tax Code, L. 230 of the Book of Tax Procedures);
  • Crimes and misdemeanors mentioned in article 706-47 of the code of criminal procedure or provided for by articles 222-30 and 227-26 of the penal code committed against minors (articles 7 and 8 of the code of criminal procedure);
  • Crimes and offenses relating to drugs (CCP 706-31).

To know: The limitation periods can be:

  • interrupted: acts of prosecution or investigation (either forwarded, report of finding, report of fruitless searches, indictments, constitution of civil party, regular summons, remedy, execution of a criminal composition, art. 41- 2 of the CPP)
  • hanging: preliminary ruling, alternative procedure of article 41-1 in progress.


There are several amnesty laws generally signed by the newly elected President of the Republic (law 81-736 of August 4, 1981, law 88-828 of July 20, 1988, law 89-473 of July 10, 1989, law 95-884 of 3 August 1995). The most recent is Law 2002-1062 of August 6, 2002 which (zero tolerance obliges) excludes a large number of offenses from its scope.

The repeal of the criminal law

It is always advisable to go and look for specific texts to check that they are still in force, in particular in the case of old facts or technical offenses.

The authority of res judicata

We cannot be retried for the same facts (Non bis in idem).

The transaction

When provided for by law and in particular:

  • As regards the distribution of industrial products and energy (article 14 of ordinance 58-1331 of 23 December 1958);
  • In terms of freshwater fishing (articles R. 238-1 to R. 238-6 of the rural code);

Criminal composition

Once it is executed (art. 41-2 para. 9 of the Code of Criminal Procedure).

Cases where public action cannot be exercised

  • The psychic or neuropsychic disorder having abolished the discernment or the control of the acts of the author (article 122-1 of the penal code).
  • The minor whose capacity for discernment is not established.
  • The irresistible force or constraint (article 122-2 of the penal code).
  • The error of law (article 122-3 of the penal code).
  • Authorization of the law, regulation or command of the legitimate authority (article 122-4 of the penal code);
  • Self-defense (article 122-5 to 122-7 of the penal code).
  • Diplomatic immunity.

Cases where public action is subject to filing a complaint or prior notice

The victim's prior complaint:

  • In the matter of infringement of the law on the press (article 48 of the law of July 29, 1881).
  • In matters of industrial property (article L. 623-33 of the intellectual property code).
  • In terms of hunting on the land of others (article L. 428-33 of the rural code).
  • In the matter of an offense committed abroad (articles 113-6 and 113-7 of the penal code), but this is then an alternative condition with the official denunciation emanating from the authority of the country where the act occurred. committed (art. 113-8 of the penal code).
  • In terms of invasion of privacy (articles 226-1 and 226-2 of the penal code)

The prior complaint of the administration concerned is mandatory in matters of:

  • Tax (article L. 228 of the book of tax procedures).
  • Advertising by irregular display (article 15 paragraph 2 of the law of April 12, 1943).
  • Weapons of war (article 36 paragraph 3 of the decree-law of April 18, 1939).

The administration's prior opinion must be obtained with regard to:

  • Illegal prices (article 4 of ordinance 67-835 of September 28, 1967).
  • Military offenses

To know: The administration can deal alone and put an end to the proceedings in matters of:

  • tax (article L. 248 of the book of tax procedures).
  • customs (article 350 of the customs code). However, if public action has already been taken, the transaction is subject to the prior approval of the prosecution.
  • of water and forests (article L. 153-2 of the forest code), with the agreement of the public prosecutor.

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