Is There a Statute of Limitations on Sexual Abuse?
When a crime is perpetrated, a time window exists in which a state must charge the culprit. The regulations that decide this time frame are known as criminal statutes of limitations. As prominent sexual violence cases persist in making news—and as survivors endeavor to report crimes—it can be beneficial to have a better comprehension of these regulations and how they differ.
Defining a Criminal Statute of Limitations
Every state has statutes of limitations that decide the amount of time it must charge somebody with a crime. A statute of limitations is similar to a timer: the clock usually begins when the crime happens; after time expires, a culprit cannot be indicted for the crime.
Statute of limitations differ by state and kind of crime. Every state’s law usually tackles some main questions:
- What activates the clock or must occur to initiate the statute of limitations?
- What can stop the clock, or what conditions bring about the statute of limitations to toll?
- What can keep the clock running or makes certain that specific victims like children have enough time to present themselves and report the crime?
How are Statutes of Limitations Established and Used?
Statutes of limitations are created and chosen by state policymakers. That indicates that every state has its own series of statute of limitations regulations—these regulations can differ, even when the crimes are similar. For instance, the statute of limitations for rape in Alaska is limitless: district attorneys can always charge somebody accused of rape, no matter how much time has expired. However, in Massachusetts, rap has a fifteen-year statute of limitations.
When the state prosecutes a crime, the attorney attempting to press charges against a culprit, called the prosecutor, must decide which statute of limitations are valid in that specific case. To do this, district attorneys consider a few of the following questions:
- What kind of crime took place?The more severe the crime, for instance a felony sex crime versus a misdemeanor, the longer district attorneys usually must indict suspects.
- When did the crime happen? In many cases, a statute of limitations clock starts immediately after the crime happens. In a few situations, like a child victim, they might not understand the experience’s criminal nature until later in life. In these cases, the clock may begin when the crime is found out, not when it happened.
- Who was engaged in the crime? District attorneys will bear in mind the victim’s identity, the supposed culprit, and the relationship between them, if any, when deciding which crime and statute of limitations are applicable. Factors like age or standing as a susceptible population, for instance, a child or disabled person, can influence which statute of limitations is applicable.
- What exceptions are appropriate? For instance, is there DNA evidence. If that is the case, the state might stop the statute of limitations until a match to the DNA is discovered by means of CODIS, the national DNA database. Was a weapon utilized in the perpetration of the crime? If that is the case, that may also influence the statute of limitations.