Statutes of limitations are powerful protections built into state and federal laws. These limits are set to preserve the integrity of the case and give people accused of a crime a reasonable opportunity to defend themselves. Without these time restrictions, people could make allegations from something so long ago that evidence no longer exists to support a defense.
However, these statutes of limitations can change. For instance, the state of California is considering eliminating the statute of limitations that is currently in place for felony sex crimes. The change has been sparked by situations like that involving Bill Cosby, who is accused of sexual assault crimes against dozens of women 30 or more years ago. Instead of having 10 years to pursue charges stemming from sexual assault, alleged victims would be able to pursue charges at any time.
This is a powerful statement the state is considering making, and depending on what is ultimately decided, other states may decide to follow suit.
Florida already has far stricter statutes of limitations in place for felonies than California. In cases of a first degree felony, charges must be filed within four years of when the alleged offense was committed, though there are different rules if the alleged victim was under the age of 18 at the time.
However, the case in California should be of interest to people across the U.S. because of the arguments being made in favor of and against the elimination. Supporters say that there are already so many exceptions being made to the limitations that they are more indicative of the rule. They also state that trauma can affect people in ways that make it difficult for them to comprehend a crime until long after it has occurred.
Drawbacks to eliminating the statute of limitations include increased difficulty for not just the defense but also the prosecution in terms of securing accurate, viable evidence.
It will be interesting to see whether the statute of limitations in California is indeed eliminated. Whether it happens or not, however, we will certainly continue to update readers on any legal changes involving statutes of limitations for felony sex crimes right here in Florida.