California Senator Seeks to Eliminate Statute of Limitations for Sex Crimes

California Senator Connie Leyva will introduce a bill next year to repeal the statute of limitations for rape and other sex crimes.

A criminal statute of limitations sets the time period within which a prosecutor must charge a criminal case. The proposed law would allow prosecutors to bring a charge at any time after an alleged sex crime.

In California, a prosecutor now generally has ten years to prosecute individuals for felony sex offenses. If new DNA evidence arises, the time period may be extended.

In Washington State, the criminal statute of limitations for rape and other sex crimes is complex.

If an alleged rape victim in Washington reports the incident to authorities within one year, then prosecutors may bring charges within ten years of the commission of the crime. Otherwise, the accused must be prosecuted within three years. There are exceptions for Washington sex crimes committed against children; they may be prosecuted up to the alleged victim’s thirtieth birthday.

Victims of sexual assault also may bring civil lawsuits against offenders to win money as compensation. In Washington, if the sexual assault happened when the victim was a child, the suit may be filed at any time within three years of the victim’s discovering that they have been harmed by the sexual abuse. This is a very liberal standard.

Consider, for example, a 60-year-old woman who was sexually molested when she was five. Assume also that she began drinking at age twelve and has been an alcoholic since she was sixteen.

If she “discovers” at age 60 that she became an alcoholic because she was sexually molested, she then, under Washington law, has until she is 63 to file suit against the person who molested her.

Statutes of limitations seek to prevent trials that are unfair because evidence has been lost through passage of time. As decades go by, witnesses’ memories fade and physical evidence disappears. Even records are eventually destroyed.

The lengthening and even abolition of limitations periods in sexual assault cases is yet another way in which it is becoming more difficult for those accused of sexual assault to get fair treatment in court. At The Marshall Defense Firm we remain committed to getting justice for the accused in spite of these handicaps.