Rape, and other sexual abuse offenses, are serious crimes in the State of California that can result in serious penalties if convicted. Finding out that you have been accused of rape is frightening enough; however, finding out that you are being accused of a rape that occurred years ago is usually even more frightening. This leads to the obvious question “Can I be prosecuted for rape in California if it happened years ago?” Though it may seem to be a simple question, it is not.
A statute of limitations is the time frame within which the State of California has to prosecute a defendant in a criminal case. When deciding on an appropriate statute of limitations, or SOL, the legislature must weigh competing interests. On one hand, crimes are not always conveniently solved in a short period of time; yet, a criminal should not be allowed to escape prosecution simply because the police are unable to solve the crime quickly. On the other hand, it is not fair to allow prosecutions for minor offenses years after the fact when exculpatory witnesses and evidence may long since have disappeared. Therefore, as a general rule less serious crimes have a short SOL (1-5 years) while more serious crimes have longer SOLs, or do not have a SOL at all as is the case with murder.
For most offenses, the applicable SOL is easy enough to figure out. Not so with sex offenses, including rape. Some rules are clear while others are not. For example, it is clear that aggravated rape has no statute of limitations in California, meaning you can be prosecuted for aggravated rape years, even decades, after the crime was allegedly committed. Aggravated rape is one in which a weapon was used, the victim was seriously injured, or multiple defendants are involved). Keep in mind, however, that the applicable SOL is the one that was in effect at the time the alleged crime was committed.
Non-aggravated rape does have a SOL of six years; however, there are exceptions. For instance, if you can conclusively prove that the defendant committed the crime by DNA analysis, the SOL is changed to within one year after discovery of the DNA.
If the alleged victim is a minor, the rules become even more complicated. In theory, there is a ten year SOL on child molestation, for example. Except, there is an exception to that rule that allows a defendant to be prosecuted within one year after the victim tells the police about the crime, regardless of how long ago it actually took place. In essence, the exception makes the ten year period inapplicable.
Because of the complexity of the rape laws and the various statute of limitations rules and exceptions to those rules it is always best to consult with an experienced California criminal defense attorney as soon as you are made aware that you may be a suspect in a rape, or other sex offense, case.
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