Statute of Limitations, Sgt. Jenkins, and fleeing the country

Well, crap. Looks like my OP fled the country, too. Fortunately, I saved it just in case of this. Let’s try again.

Or never being in the country in the first place.

In the U.S., if you leave the country (or the boundaries of US authority, for military personnel stationed overseas) after committing a crime (a federal crime, in this case), does the statute of limitations still apply?

I ask because currently there’s an awkward situation going on between Japan, N. Korea and the U.S. Last year, five people who’d been kidnapped by N. Korea in the 70’s were returned to Japan. One of them, Hitomi Soga, got married while she was in N. Korea to Sgt. Richard Jenkins, an American who deserted from the Army (I believe. One of the armed forces, anyway) in 1965. The sticky situation is that Soga wants to be with her husband again, the Japanese government is refusing to let her return and is pressuing Pyongyang to let her husband leave, but the U.S. State Department has said that they’ll arrest Jenkins for desertion the second they’re able to.

Now, I’ve heard (and if this is inaccurate, please correct me) that the SoL for this particular crime is 40 years, which would set Jenkins’ expiration date at 2005, not too far in the future. When I brought up this point in an argument, though, I was told that the SoL doesn’t apply if you leave the US, so he’s eligible for arrest no matter how long he waits. This is the case for Japanese law, so it seems plausible that it could be the same for America.

Is it?

SofL for criminal cases requires only a charge or arrest warrant within a certain time period, not a trial or conviction. There was a big precedence in Wisconsin awhile back where they only had a semen sample of a rapist and they issued a warrant for a man with the DNA profile of X, which was ruled sufficiently distinctive to a particular individual to qualify. That way, if they ever catch him at some future point, there’s no SofL problem.

(Note: IANAL; most of this comes from an episode of L&O:SVU)

IANAL, but I seem to recall that the statute of limitations for many crimes “tolls” if you leave the jurisdiction - in other words, it’s put on “hold” until you return. That’s to prevent you from escaping justice simply by moving to another state for long enough to let the SofL to run out - extradition can be a long, expensive procedure, so states aren’t eager to pursue it for lesser crimes.

I’m not sure how that would apply to a Federal crime, however, especially something like desertion, where the commission of the crime itself usually involves leaving the U.S. (Trying to desert, but stay in the States, certainly wouldn’t be impossible, but it’d be damn difficult.)

Here is an article about the Wisconsin case. I think the first such warrant (or perhaps it was an indictment, the mind grows hazy) was issued in New York.

The OP’s question is complicated further by the fact that this is a military issue. Not to put too fine a point on it but the rule of law doesn’t apply to the military in the same way it applies to civilian cases. Generally speaking, however, Early Out is correct in saying that the clock stops on the statute of limitations if the alleged perpetrator leaves the jurisdiction.

According to this source, if you go AWOL in time of war, there is no statute of limitations at all (and it doesn’t have to be a declared war, either - our current situation would suffice). If it’s not in a time of war, there’s a five-year limitation, but the clock stops ticking if you’re attempting to evade justice (by leaving the country, for example).

In effect, that really means that there’s no statute of limitations, since the clock wouldn’t be ticking unless you were AWOL, it wasn’t a time of war, you were living openly under your own name within the U.S., but for some reason the Feds left you alone for five years. Sure, that’s gonna happen!