In the news today, it was announced that comedian Bill Cosby is being charged in Pennsylvania, for a sexual assault allegation from 2004. Many wonder how a statute of limitations can affect an allegation that occurred over a decade ago. In that state, the charge of aggravated indecent assault has a statute of limitations of 12 years.
A statute of limitations acts to limit the amount of time for which a crime can be prosecuted. If the time period has passed for that crime to be prosecuted, the prosecution is not allowed. Different crimes have different statutes of limitations, for instance Murder may have no statute of limitations, since it is such a serious crime, meaning that a person can be prosecuted at any time for commission of that crime. Other less serious crimes may have only a 1 year statute of limitations, such as for shoplifting.
There are several reasons for statutes of limitations, and one of them is fundamental fairness to the accused. If someone makes an allegation from many months, years, or decades ago, how can someone effectively defend themselves in court against that allegation? The passage of time will have caused evidence, witnesses, or defenses to be lost. It is very difficult to determine where someone was a number of years ago, let alone find an alibi witness, who may be able to prove that the person did not commit the crime. DNA evidence may have been lost, the crime scene may have been bulldozed, and of course memory fades.
Another reason to have a limitation on the time for these crimes to be prosecuted is simply the passage of time. There may be little deterrent effect in punishing someone for something that they did long ago. People should be allowed to move on from minor mistakes without worrying about it for the rest of their lives.
In Washington, the statutes of limitations are spelled out in RCW 9A.04.080. They are:
No Statute of Limitations:
Murder; Homicide by abuse; Arson if a death results; Vehicular homicide; Vehicular assault if a death results; Hit-and-run injury-accident if a death results.
Ten Year Statute of Limitations:
Any felony committed by a public officer if the commission is in connection with the duties of his or her office or constitutes a breach of his or her public duty or a violation of the oath of office; Arson if no death results; Indecent liberties by forcible compulsion; or
Rape in the First Degree or Rape in the Second Degree, if the rape is reported to a law enforcement agency within one year of its commission. If they are not reported within one year, the rape may not be prosecuted more than three years after its commission.
Statute of Limitations for Sex Crimes Against Children under 18:
The following crimes can be prosecuted up to the victim's 30th birthday: Rape in the first degree, Rape in the second degree, Rape of a child in the first degree, Rape of a child in the second degree, Rape of a child in the third degree, Child molestation in the first degree, Child molestation in the second degree, Child molestation in the third degree, Indecent liberties, Incest, or Sexual exploitation of a minor.
Statute of Limitations for Sex Crimes with DNA Testing
In any prosecution for a sex offense, the periods of limitation run from the date of commission or one year from the date on which the identity of the suspect is conclusively established by DNA testing or by photograph, whichever is later.
Six Year Statute of Limitations:
Leading organized crime; Use of proceeds of criminal profiteering — Controlling enterprise or realty — Conspiracy or attempt; Money Laundering; Felony Identity Crimes; Theft in the first or second degree when accomplished by color or aid of deception; or Trafficking in stolen property in the first or second degree in which the stolen property is a motor vehicle or major component part of a motor vehicle.
Five Year Statute of Limitations:
Medical Care Felonies; or Fuel Tax Felonies
Three Year Statute of Limitations:
Bigamy; Theft in the First Degree when Victim is a Charity; and all other felonies, except Voyeurism when the the person who was viewed, photographed, or filmed did not realize at the time that he or she was being viewed, photographed, or filmed, the prosecution must be commenced within two years of the time the person who was viewed or in the photograph or film first learns that he or she was viewed, photographed, or filmed.
Two Year Statute of Limitations:
Gross Misdemeanors. This includes crimes like DUI and Assault in the Fourth Degree
One Year Statute of Limitations:
Simple Misdemeanors. This included crimes like shoplifting and littering.
If you have a question about the statute of limitations for a sex crime or any other crime, contact my office and I would be happy to meet with you and discuss it.