If Bill Cosby’s arrest and subsequent conviction taught us anything, it’s that no one is too famous or too beloved to be charged with sexual assault. It is also a great reminder of the statute of limitations on sexual assault can dramatically impact rape cases. In fact, Cosby would not have been arrested for this 2004 offense, if it had occurred in San Diego, but if it happened in 2020, that would be a different story.
There is No Statute of Limitations on Sexual Assault in CA
The Bill Cosby example is important, because it was actually the spark that led to the California state legislature changing the law. Because when the Cosby case made news in 2016, California state’s statute of limitations on sexual assault was only six years and his alleged rape took place in 2004, long past when the statute of limitations expired.
As a result, the state legislature changed the law so as of January 1, 2017, there are no longer any statute of limitations on any form of sexual assault charges.
Incidents Before 2017 May be Outside the Statute of Limitations
That being said, changing the law doesn’t retroactively affect the statute of limitations for a crime. In other words, if a rape took place before 2017, it will still be subject to the six year statute of limitations for sexual assault that applied prior to the law change. So right now, only rapes against adults that took place as of 2014 can be prosecuted and after 2023, only those that took place in 2017 can be charged.
It’s worth adding that before the law was changed in 2017, it was changed previously in 2015 to extend the statute of limitations for sexual assaults against minors. Under this law, sexual assaults against minors could be prosecuted all the way up until the victim’s 40th birthday. So if a victim was sexually assaulted January 1, 2015 and January 1, 2017, the crime can be prosecuted all the way up until he or she turns 40.
DNA Evidence and the “Date of Discovery”
It is worth noting that if DNA evidence is made available after the statute of limitations ends, prosecutors and police have a year from the “date of discovery” to file charges. DNA evidence isn’t limited to items taken in the rape kit after an alleged sex crime occurred.
With the Cosby case, for example, if one of the accusers had a child that she believes could have been born as a result of the rape, she could consent to having the child’s DNA tested to match it witch Cosby. If the DNA was a match, prosecutors would have a year to charge Cosby.
The Statute of Limitations for Aggravated Rape
That being said, even before 2017, there was no statute of limitations for aggravated rape, which is defined as a rape that involves a weapon, more than one offender or that results in serious bodily injury. That means that in these cases, it doesn’t matter how much time has passed since the actual act, a person can always be arrested and tried for these crimes.
What About Statutory Rape?
While statutory rape is considered a “rape” in the sense that the victim was unable to consent due to age, it is not as serious as traditional sexual assault charges. This means it not only carries a lighter sentence, but that it also has a reasonably short statute of limitations. In fact, if the crime is charged as a misdemeanor, statutory rape only has a one year statute of limitations, but if it is a felony, this extends to three years.
Why Police May Investigate After the Statute of Limitations Expires
Despite the fact that no charges could be brought against Cosby in California so far, police are continuing to investigate accusations against the actor because even those who cannot file charges against him can be presented as witnesses against him if charges are brought against him in California. It’s worth noting that even if the state government changed the statute of limitations for rape, it wouldn’t affect any existing crimes because the statute of limitations in effect at the time a crime occurred are the ones that affect that crime.
If you have any questions about the statute of limitations on sexual assault and how they may affect you, or if you have been charged with any type of sex crime, attorney Peter M. Liss can help. Please call (760) 643-4050 or (858) 486-3024 to schedule a free initial consultation.
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