What is the reasoning behind statutes of limitations?

As I understand it, a statute of limitations prohibits prosecuting a suspect for a specific crime after a set period of time has elapsed. Is this correct?

If so, WTF? Just because I committed a crime more than x years ago, and have thus far escaped detection, when the SOL time period arrives I’m in the clear?

And this is, I believe, invoked even in serious crimes such as rape? Even murder?

I don’t understand the reasoning for this even existing. But I’m sure someone will enlighten me.

I don’t believe there is a statute of limitations on murder.

There is no statute of limitations on murder in any US jurisdiction, and in most places there is not statute of limitation on the more serious crimes. (In NY, for example, no SOL on class A felonies).

There are two basic theories behind the concept. One is that it becomes difficult to prosecute (and defend yourself against) charges from a long time ago. Memories fade. Evidence is destroyed. Witnesses die.

The other is that the police and court resources are limited. I don’t want my local detectives spending time on a stolen car case from 1985.

There’s no statute of limitations on Murder, in any jurisdiction, IIRC (IANAL, Of course).
But the Statute of limitations has to do with the degradation of evidence, both physical and human. They draw the line at so many years, because beyond that point it makes no sense to prosecute for a variety of reasons.

  1. Human evidence is far, far less valid (I’m sure I saw him do it!).
  2. Physical evidence is more likely to have been inadvertently contaminated, even if the chain of custody was never broken.

Those two things make a conviction less likely, and a successful appeal more likely (both of which cost tax payers more money).

Couple that with prosecutors are only human, and make mistakes or get pushed into bad decisions by their bosses (who can get pushed into bad choices by their constituents), it makes sense to have a statute of limitations on crimes… more sense in the past, with less ‘permanent or semipermanent’ recording devices, but it still makes sense today.

At least, that’s how it was explained to me when I asked the very same question of a lawyer (although I think she was a custody lawyer, so take it with a grain of something).

The idea behind a statute of limitations is that it’s unjust to punish someone for a crime that happened sufficiently long ago, because, first, the individual has been punished already because of his conscience and his fear of detection/uncertainty of prosecution, second, with the passage of time, evidence degrades, memories fade, and it becomes more difficult to be certain of the truth, third, because there are more recent crimes and lawsuits the court can spend its time on, and fourth, related to the first, so that prosecutors don’t unreasonably delay bringing trial.

There isn’t generally a statute of limitations against murder.

“These statutes, which apply to both civil and criminal actions, are designed to prevent fraudulent and stale claims from arising after all evidence has been lost or after the facts have become obscure through the passage of time or the defective memory, death, or disappearance of witnesses. … Statutes of limitations are intended to encourage the resolution of legal claims within a reasonable amount of time.”

Also, the statute of limitations applies to when charges can be filed. You can’t just escape prosecution by evading capture until the clock runs out.

I think the next most logical question is, “Why does it exist, version 2?”

Why does the Statute of Limitations exist if a lot of aforementioned reasons are bad for the prosecution? Can’t they just look at a case and come to the conclusion “It’s been too damn long, trying this person will leave us very open to losing simply because memories of witnesses might be too vague now.”

Why does it have to be written into a law to prevent the prosecution from doing something that’s not in their best interest?

To prevent the prosecution from harassing people, especially the wrong person. Someone might misremember events, leading to a prosecution of someone who had nothing to do with the crime. Or the defendant might have a strong alibi for a timely prosecution, but the records from ten years ago have been lost and the major witness is dead.

In addition, a niche in time saves Stein. :wink:

Back to Statute of limitations legal definition of statute of limitations

“The statute of limitations is a defense that is ordinarily asserted by the defendant to defeat an action brought against him after the appropriate time has elapsed. Therefore, the defendant must plead the defense before the court upon answering the plaintiff’s complaint. If the defendant does not do so, he is regarded as having waived the defense and will not be permitted to use it in any subsequent proceedings.”

Damn me and my unwillingness to read through legalese! :smack:

you’re one of those “people who have nothing to hide have nothing to fear from searches” types, aren’t you?

Losing at trial is bad, yes, but it causes severe disruption to the life of the accused and costs them valuable resources. relying on the ego of a prosecutor who doesn’t like to lose is not a good way to delineate rights and provide a fair judicial system.

I’ll provide a real-life example that I think illustrates the intent. The company that my mom works for, let’s call in Acme, was involved in a contract with another company, who I’ll call WTF Inc. Eventually Acme got fed up with WTF’s incompetence and terminated the contract. They kept all records for seven years as required for audit purposes but shredded them when the seven years were up. Then WTF Inc sued Acme for contract infringement, and Acme was completely screwed.

If there was a statute of limitations on suing for contract infringement(and maybe there is and Acme was too stupid to keep the records for long enough), then Acme can use that as a guideline for how long to keep their records.

No I’m not. Thanks for nothing though.

Prosecutors are only human. Why do we need jury’s or judges at all? Shouldn’t a prosecutor just be able to look at the facts of the case, impartially, and determine whether a person is or is not guilty?

Why do we need judges to sign search warrants? etc. We need these things because prosecutors are not infallible, and they don’t always get to make the decisions they seem to make for themselves.
Think of this very unlikely story; a 16 year old girl is raped and beaten. Her father is a local hero, donating tens of thousands of dollars a years to a lot of charities. Twenty-five years later, she sees someone on the street and she knows he did it, he looks the exact same, and the way he smiled was just too knowing. Clearly, he raped her (and she knows it!).

Over the last twenty-five years, her father has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the city, the mayor wants to make sure that she gets justice, and puts pressure on the DA, and public has outcry, because they all know this girl, their homecoming queen, the belle of the ball, the girl who’s heiress to her fathers fortune and the one who they’ve all come to adore.

She wants justice, they (the citizens) want justice, her father wants justice, the mayor wants justice – the DA either tries the case or doesn’t get re-elected, in which case the next guy does try the case.

Whether the guy is found guilty or not, this man is charged with a crime, put in jail and prosecuted, costing him time and money to defend himself from charges which are impossible for him to disprove.

I would view that with great circumspect. I am not a maven of the law of equity, but I’m pretty sure a criminal (civil I could see estoppel issues far easier) case that is prosecuted outside of a statute of limitations (where no one needs manages to catch it) is going to be voidable at any time.

to clarify, i’m talking about your failure to plead the affirmative defense as the waiver. obviously express waivers are different.

Another IMO good reason for statutes of limitation is that not having been caught for a long time often means that the perpetrator has kept their nose clean since, i.e. mended their ways, and that punishment would do more harm than good.

For example, consider a 20-year-old burgling the premises of a business at night.

Case a: The burglar triggers an alarm, when the cops come he runs but just not fast enough, and gets caught.

Obviously punishment is in order, to try and dissuade the burglar from further crimes.

Case b: The burglar triggers an alarm, when the cops come he runs, just a little faster than in the first case, and gets away.

Having got the fright of his life, the burglar decides that his nerves are not up to it and that a life of boring work now looks more appealing. He keeps on the straight and narrow, and his behaviour is such that the police never have cause to look at him with the thought ‘doesn’t he look like the burglar who got away?’

Thirty years later a 50-year old hardworking model citizen gets identified as a burglar by a new forensic technology.

Would it serve a good purpose now to let him go to prison, lose his job and social ties and possibly make him take to crime after release?

Personally, the evidence for murder and rape has degraded, and witnesses died/forgot just the same for murder and rape [in many cases] as it has for petty theft or any lesser crime and there should be a statue of limitations there as well.

So if someone murdered Jack Jones 35 years ago, and the only people that could have alibied Fred for the murder are dead/senile in a nursing home, how is it fair for him to defend himself? Any store clerk would have LONG forgotten him and I seriously doubt that you could turn up a register tape 30 years after the fact and god forbid if he paid cash, though I doubt that you could find a cash register record or even a credit card record 30 years down the line. About the only vague hope of defense he has is there was no genetic matter found and properly stored, or fingerprints found and properly entered into CODIS

If the defense is available and not pled, doesn’t that make a slam-dunk Strickland claim later on anyway?