A statute of limitations is a law that sets a time limit on how long after an event that someone can be charged with a crime.
Also known as a “limitation period,” this time limit varies depending on the type and severity of the offense. For example, the statute of limitations for shoplifting is usually shorter than the statute of limitations for homicide.
Penal Code 801.1 PC sets the limitation period for certain sex crimes within the State of California.
Statute of limitations for sex crimes in California
Under PC 801.1, prosecutors must charge someone:
- By the victim’s 40th birthday, if the victim was under age 18 when the offense happened.
- Within 10 years of the offense, if the victim was an adult.
This applies to the following sex crimes:
- Lewd acts with a minor
- Oral copulation with a minor
- Continuous sexual abuse of a child
- Penetration by a foreign object
In other words, in a rape case where the alleged offense happened in 2022 to a victim who was 23 at the time, prosecutors have until 2032 to file charges.
However, if the victim was 13 at the time, prosecutors have until the victim’s 40th birthday to file charges. That means the defendant can be charged up until the year 2049.
Exceptions to California’s sex crimes statute of limitations
While PC 801.1 is rather straightforward, there are two major exceptions to the rule. Those are:
- Independent corroborating evidence – defined in PC 803(f)(1)
- The DNA Exception Rule – defined in PC 803(g)
Independent corroborating evidence – PC 803(f)(1)
In cases of “substantial sexual conduct” with a victim who was a minor at the time the offenses occurred, a prosecutor can bring charges after the statute of limitations has passed, if all of the following is true:
- The limitations period under PC 801.1 has expired
- The offense involved “substantial sexual conduct,” which is defined as contact between the genitals of the defendant and the victim, either directly or through clothing. This can also include penetration with a foreign object.
- There is independent evidence that corroborates the alleged victim’s account.
The DNA Exception Rule – PC 803(g)
The DNA Exception Rule allows the state to file charges in cases involving sexual penetration by a foreign object if DNA evidence is collected that establishes a person as a suspect. At that point, the state has one year to file charges against the suspect.
The DNA Exception Rule applies for offenses committed on or after January 1, 2001, when DNA evidence was collected and analyzed within two years of the offense.
Get legal help for your case
Curious about whether the statute of limitations might have expired on your case? If you or someone you love has been accused of a sex crime, a skilled defense attorney can help. Your attorney will evaluate the details of your case with you and help determine whether or not the statute of limitations might’ve passed.
Robert M. Helfend is a criminal defense attorney who has been practicing law for more than 30 years. He is based in Los Angeles, California, and represents clients throughout the state. Call today for a free case review – 800-834-6434.