The Supreme Court ruled today that a California law that retroactively removes the statute of limitations for sex crimes is unconstitutional. Basically, the statute of limitations for sex crimes previously said that a prosecution had to be brought within 7 years of the crime, or else it could never be brought. The recent California law temporarily suspended that restriction and only required that a prosecution be brought within 1 year of when the victim filed a police report, which could be done any amount of time after the alleged abuse occured.

Statutes of limitations are important because it can be impossible to mount a defense against accusations of wrongdoing that may have occured in the distant past. Witnesses die and move away, memories fade and change over time. Realize, once an accusation is made and a prosecution has begun, there is no time limit on how long it can take to complete. If the suspect flees justice he can still be tried and convicted in absentia. Statutes of limitations only prevent accusations from being brought too long after the fact.

It may or may not be good policy to lengthen or eliminate the statute of limitations that applies to sex crimes, and that is still within the power of the California legislature, but the Supreme Court has ruled that it cannot do so retroactively for crimes that have already been committed.

This CNN story indicates that the statute of limitations for sex crimes in California is 3 years, not 7 as I said previously.



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