Is there a distinction between "within" and "in" as in, "upon finding a violation within the preceding four years" versus "upon finding a violation in the preceding four years"?
Not sure if you were asking only about your example, or more generally, so I’ll answer more generally. Consider these uses:
- He hung his coat in the closet.
- He walked in the door.
- I’ll have it finished within an hour.
- It is almost within his grasp.
Consider swapping the words (within/in) in each of the four cases.
- This sounds silly, to my ear.
- This would make no sense, unless the door is hollow, and the person is very small.
- The meaning here is close, however, I’d suggest that “within” implies that I might have it done before the hour is up, but “in an hour” implies that it will take every bit of 60 minutes.
- This is also close, but “within” carries a greater connotation of the distinction between “in and “out”.
Latin uses different cases for each of these (ablative of time within which, for number 3, which is relevant to your example.
I was glad to see the question, because I see “within” used excessively in my technical field, as in, “the information resides within the database” and other pomposities. This is written in "formal" documents by people who would never say, "I hung my coat within the closet", but who think it sounds scientific, or erudite, or something when written in a technical paper.