While many of us have heard the phrase "statute of limitations," we may not understand its legal meaning. Put simply, a statute of limitations prevents a legal cause of action from being brought after a certain number of years. The statute of limitations applies to the civil justice and criminal justice worlds, and the purpose behind the law is that individuals should be allowed to continue to live their lives without fear of litigation or prosecution after so much time has passed after an incident occurs. Recently, the statute of limitations in Kansas that applies to sex crimes involving children was lengthened.
On July 1, Kansas's statute of limitations on sex crimes against children was changed and now begins to run after the alleged victim turns age 18. Before the change in the law, the statute of limitations on sex crimes against children ran out five years after the alleged crime occurred. Now, the statute of limitations begins to run after the victim turns 18 and prosecution can begin within five years thereafter. The change in the statute of limitations was the result of one detective's dissatisfaction with the law.
The change is rooted in an interview of a 10-year-old girl who was believed to have been molested and whose testimony would have been used in a defendant's case in 2006. According to The Kansas City Star, an investigation of the defendant revealed that he had abused his own children, and police believed he had also abused his 10-year-old niece. The detective interviewed the 10-year-old, but the girl repeatedly denied that she had been molested. The trial occurred without the niece's testimony and the defendant was sentenced to 30 years in Kansas' Sexual Predator Treatment Program.
Time passed, and when the girl became a teenager she came forward and explained she had been sexually abused by the defendant but was too afraid to tell authorities. Since more than five years had passed since the crime occurred, prosecutors were not able to prosecute the defendant for the additional crime. Under previous Kansas law, the 6-year-old girl had until she was age 11 to report the crime. Commenting on the former law in The Kansas City Star, the detective said victims often do not realize the trauma they have been through until they mature.
The law in nearby Missouri goes even further. In Missouri, prosecution for a sex crime involving a child can be brought up to 30 years after the child turns age 18. Other states have also extended similar time limits. Time; however, can cause a witness' memory to fade and a longer statute of limitations period may create a legal process that becomes unfairly prejudicial to a criminal defendant.
If you have been accused of a crime, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney to protect your legal rights.