A criminal statute of limitations is a law that establishes the time frame for the prosecutor to bring criminal charges against the offender. Even though timelines within which to file charges vary from one crime to another, the statute of limitations for child molestation cases generally sets a substantially longer timeframe than other crimes, making it possible for the victim to accuse the perpetrator long after they were molested. A criminal statute of limitations exists since the evidence can deteriorate over time, and tracing eyewitnesses and the involved parties can be challenging.

The statutes of limitations for most states state how long after a molestation incident a victim can accuse the perpetrator. However, in California, most laws that govern felony sex offenses no longer provide a time frame to bring charges. Consequently, in most cases, a victim of child molestation in California may press charges against the supposed offender anytime they wish, with various exceptions. This blog explains the criminal statute of limitations for California child molestation cases and when, after a molestation incident, a victim can press criminal charges.

The Child Molestation Statute of Limitations Can Be Indefinite

Previously, all California felony sexual offenses had a ten-year statute of limitations. That means the prosecution could not accuse you of a crime if ten years have elapsed since the supposed victim's eighteenth birthday. But the law recently changed.

Per the current law, the statute of limitations for sex crimes can be more than ten years. Specifically for child molestation cases, the statute of limitations ranges between 12 months and forever, depending on the specific violation committed. Recent changes in the state child molestation statutes have allowed D.A.s to pursue criminal prosecution whenever they want in particular cases.

The Type of Child Molestation Violation Determines What Statute of Limitations Applies

Nine different violations fall under California’s child molestation law. They are:

  • 287 PC, orally copulating with a child.
  • 288 PC, lascivious or lewd acts with a minor.
  • 288.2 PC, sending harmful material to seduce a minor.
  • 288.3 PC, contacting a child intending to perpetrate a felony.
  • 288.4 PC, arranging a meeting with a child intending to participate in particular sexual conduct.
  • 288.5 PC, continuous child sexual abuse.
  • 288.7 PC, sex with a minor under 10.
  • 647.6 PC, annoying or molesting a child under 18.
  • 261.5 PC, statutory rape.

The statutes of limitations for some of these crimes require the prosecutor to file criminal charges within 12 months, while for others, the D.A. must file charges whenever after the crime has been perpetrated, as follows:

  • The time frame for filing criminal charges for statutory rape, sending harmful material to seduce a minor, and arranging a meeting with a child intending to engage in particular sexual conduct is 12 months if it is a misdemeanor violation and three years if it is a felony.
  • In given cases, the statute of limitations for oral copulation and lascivious or lewd acts with a minor is at any date in the future.
  • The time frame for filing criminal charges for contacting a child intending to perpetrate a sex crime or felony is three years.
  • For the offense of continuous child sexual abuse and sexual conduct with a victim under 10, the prosecutor can file criminal charges at any time after the crime has been perpetrated. That means the victim can press charges within any number of years after the supposed occurrence of the crime, making it challenging for any suspected person to live in peace.
  • Annoying a victim under 18 has a statute of limitations of 12 months if it is a misdemeanor offense and three years if it is a felony violation or if the minor was under 14 years old when the crime occurred.

The time frames for lascivious or lewd acts on a minor (PC 288) and orally copulating with a child victim are complicated. These are severe crimes, and there is generally a more extended period within which the prosecution can file charges, and establishing the proper time frame is becoming more complex.

How The Statute of Limitations is Enforced for Oral Copulation

A prosecutor can file an oral copulation case at any date if the following is true:

  • The crime was perpetrated against the minor’s will by menace, duress, force, fear of imminent and unlawful harm, or violence to the child or someone else.
  • The violation involved willingly acting in league with someone else to execute the act.
  • The offense was perpetrated against the minor’s will by threats of retaliation.
  • The offender knew the victim was unconscious of the type of act done to them as they were asleep, the offender used fraud to mislead them, or they were unaware the action was happening.
  • The victim could not legally consent because of a physical or mental disability.
  • The crime was perpetrated against the minor’s will by the offender’s threats to use their apparent or real authority to arrest, deport, or imprison the child or another person.
  • The victim could not resist as they were drugged, and the offender reasonably knew this.

Under any other circumstances, the prosecutor has to file oral copulation criminal charges on any date before the involved victim turns 40 years old if the applicable time frame has not run out by then or if the supposed violation happened in or after 2015.

How The Statute of Limitations is Enforced for Lascivious or Lewd Acts With a Child

Under the recent law, certain PC 288 violations do not have a time frame for the prosecutor to bring charges. That is, the D.A. can file criminal charges whenever they want. The new law has therefore made certain violations of 288 PC equivalent to murder. Generally, the prosecution can file charges anytime if the crime involved touching a minor under 14 years old for sexual reasons and:

  • Substantial sexual conduct, which is defined as involving acts of oral copulation, sexual penetration of the victim’s or offender’s rectum or vagina by a penis or foreign object, and masturbation of the victim or offender (1203.066(b) PC),
  • Using force, duress, fear of unlawful and immediate injury, or violence upon the minor or somebody else.

Under any other circumstances, the prosecutor must file lascivious and lewd acts charges as follows:

  • Before the victim’s fortieth birthday, as long as the deadline had not run out before the implementation of the new law, that is, before Jan. 1, 2015, or
  • Within 12 months of the involved victim reporting to law enforcement that the culprit penetrated them with a penis or foreign object when they were still considered a child, and:
    • The deadline has already run out.
    • The violation entailed substantial sexual behavior, excluding non-mutual masturbation, and
    • Independent evidence exists that supports the victim's accusations. If the involved victim was twenty-one or older when they reported the crime, the existing independent evidence to support the victim's allegations must be clear and convincing. Independent pieces of evidence do not include mental health experts' opinions, per PC803(f).

These laws are intricate. They also underwent some changes after a new statute was effected on Jan. 1, 2017. A lawyer can assist you in determining whether or not your child molestation case still falls within the applicable statute of limitations.

However, evidently, to know what statute of limitations applies to your case, you would need to understand what:

  • The supposed victim says.
  • the alleged victim's age.
  • The alleged victim's birth date.
  • When the supposed victim alleges the molesting happened.
  • When the supposed victim filed a police report,

If the authorities find new evidence of DNA, they will re-open the statute of limitations for child molestation for a year.

Evidentiary Requirements for The Crime of Lascivious and Lewd Acts With a Child

We mentioned above that if the alleged victim was twenty-one or older when they reported the violation and other deadlines have run out, clear, convincing independent pieces of evidence must be submitted to prove the victim's claims are factual. That means that other evidence must exist apart from the victim's claims. The D.A. may, for example, require the victim to prove that they sought medical treatment for the alleged molestation act from a doctor or therapist or told a friend or family member close by the time the incident supposedly occurred.

The D.A. will also need the victim to explain why they waited too long before filing a police report. This requirement minimizes the chances of wrongful allegations in applicable charges. Despite these safeguards, untrue accusations of molestation are still prevalent. And given that some cases have no or dramatically lengthened time frames to file charges, fewer safeguards exist.

Unluckily, the current time frames on child molestation violations mean you could be accused of this offense many years after the supposed incident. The logic behind these extended time limits is that the legal system believes molested minors may repress traumatic occurrences at a young age, or if they remember what they went through, they might be embarrassed to speak up.

Even though the extended time limits deservedly grant genuine victims an opportunity to pursue justice, they have unintended repercussions too. Many innocent people face charges of child molestation based on wrongful allegations, which can ruin their professional and social reputations, whether or not the case is later dismissed or affect them for a lifetime if they end up convicted.

Given that the prosecution can still file charges many years after the incident, it may imply that critical evidence for the defense side will be lost. People die or merely forget what occurred years ago. We understand you should not have to be in this position or lose your freedom only because of false accusations.

Criminal vs. Civil Statute of Limitations

A criminal statute of limitations differs from a civil statute of limitations. Whereas a criminal statute of limitations specifies when the prosecution can file a criminal case, a civil statute of limitations specifies when a victim can sue the defendant for compensation.

For cases of child molestation in California, the civil statute of limitations is the victim's fortieth birthday or within sixty months of discovering the molestation, whichever comes later. For example, if you faced child molestation but did not know about the abuse until you turned forty-five, you could sue the defendant until you turned fifty.

The common thing between criminal and civil statutes of limitations is that if the deadline expires before action is taken, the district attorney and victim will lose the right to pursue legal action.

Benefits and Drawbacks of Statutes of Limitations

For sex crimes involving minors, the statute of limitations is a controversial topic. Extended statutes of limitations help victims who were afraid to step forward and seek justice when they were minors to do so when they are adults and assist in serving the state's interests in holding culprits liable. These time frames also help the criminal justice system operate efficiently and keep the process fair for all involved parties.

But on the flip side, allowing the authorities to bring criminal charges decades after the supposed crime has other consequences, like:

  • Witnesses not remembering what they heard or saw.
  • People passing away.
  • Evidence disappearing or becoming stale.
  • The accused's incapability to repose.

However, the recent tendency has been toward extending the timeframe to assist child molestation victims in holding their abuser liable.

Find an Experienced Sex Crimes Attorney Near Me

A child molestation accusation can have severe repercussions. And since the time frame for violations of child molestation laws can be substantially longer than those for other offenses, you want to consult a lawyer if you are worried about potential molestation charges even decades after the supposed incident occurred.

At the Law Office of Sara L. Caplan, we pride ourselves on serving defendants charged in Los Angeles with considerable expertise and compassion. Our skilled lawyers have handled hundreds of sex crime cases, including child molestation, and they can provide you with legal advice and assist you in gathering evidence to develop a solid defense, regardless of how much time has passed. We offer all our clients a free and confidential initial consultation to share their case details. Call us today at 310-550-5877 so we can assist you in determining the best strategy for your case.