You may have heard of laws that set an expiration date for filing certain lawsuits. These are known as "statutes of limitations." But do you really know what they mean and how they might apply to your case?
Simply put, the statutes of limitations mean a person can't be prosecuted for an alleged offense after a certain amount of time has passed. In effect, such statutes provide a "legal expiration date" after which a person can't be prosecuted.
The time period may be only a couple of years, but sex crimes are different. For some sex crimes in Texas, the time period during which prosecution can be brought before a judge is as much as 20 years after the alleged event. Or there can be no time limit at all to prosecution, depending on the sex crime.
Indeed, Texas laws take sex crimes far more seriously than most other crimes, especially when they are sex crimes against children.
While murder or manslaughter in Texas have no limit to the time allowing prosecution, theft, robbery, burglary or kidnapping have a five-year limit according to the Texas statutes of limitations. And for many misdemeanor crimes, there's only a two-year limit.
But sex crimes are different under Texas law. For serious charges such as sexual performance by a child (a person younger than 17 years old), the statute of limitations is 20 years.
Not only that, but there's no Texas statute of limitations for sexual assault of a child or indecency with a child. You can be prosecuted for such crimes at any time after the alleged event occurred, no matter how many years it has been.
The statutes of limitations protect individuals from being prosecuted or punished for committing alleged crimes in the distant past. Such statutes set forth time periods within which prosecution must be files for specific crimes — a time period which increases with the severity of the crime.
For instance, if the statute of limitations for a certain offense is five years, then a person cannot be charged or indicted more than five years after the alleged offense was committed. And if someone does charge a person with a sex offense after the time limit has expired, the defense lawyer can cite the statute of limitations to avoid trial.
Citing a statute of limitations to avoid criminal prosecution is every defendant's right when the specified time period after an alleged offense has passed. But this must be done at or before the guilt or innocence stage of a trial. The statute cannot be applied as a defense upon appeal after a trial.
Applying such statutes means the defendant's criminal defense attorney can file a motion to dismiss the charge under article 27.08(2) of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure.
As for statutes of limitations involving sex crimes in Texas, they vary depending on the crime. But as a rule, defendants have far fewer rights when it comes to sex crimes against children than sex crimes against adults.
Due to a 2007 amendment of Article 12.01(1) of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, aggravated sexual assault of a child, continuous sexual abuse of a child and indecency with a child are crimes for which there are no statutes of limitations in the Lone Star State. That means defendants can be prosecuted no matter how many years have passed since the alleged event.
However, by law, such amendments cannot be applied retroactively. That means a person who was protected by a previous statute of limitations cannot be prosecuted because the law changed to increase the time of exposure.
Another factor that determines how long a statute of limitations can be applied is the age of the victim when a sex crime is charged.
According to Article 12.05 (5) of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, for certain crimes, if the victim was under 17 years old at the time of the alleged offense, then the 20-year time period of the statute of limitations starts on the victim's 18th birthday, not at the earlier date of the alleged offense.
This applies to the crimes of sexual performance by a child, burglary with the intent to commit sexual assault of a child, and aggravated kidnapping with the intent to violate or abuse a child sexually.
Clearly, from 20-year windows to unlimited times for prosecution, Texas laws are severe when it comes to statutes of limitations involving sex crimes against children.
Federal statutes of limitations can also apply, especially in child pornography cases. Most of these are federal crimes, so no state statute of limitations is needed.
In stark contrast to statutes of limitations for sex crimes against a child, some sexual assaults and rapes of an adult in Texas fall under a 10-year statute of limitations, rather than the 20 years or no limits for sex crimes against children.
However, there are no time limits on prosecution of some sex crimes against adults. These include aggravated sexual assault, which is an assault which maims, wounds, disfigures or is against someone who is physically or mentally incapacitated. You can be prosecuted for such an offense for the rest of your life.
Another Texas sex crime against adults with no statute of limitations is sexual assault by a defendant believed to have committed the same or a similar offense against five or more victims.
Statutes of limitations for sex crimes exist in all other states, as well as in federal law. Many states have recently moved to increase the time periods of their statutes of limitations after the notoriety of sexual assault claims against comedian Bill Cosby.
As many as 60 women accused Cosby of some kind of sexual assault. However, most alleged sexual assaults occurred many years earlier and not within the 12-year statute of limitations provided in Pennsylvania, where Cosby was being prosecuted.
If you've been accused of a sex crime in Fort Bend County, Montgomery County, Houston or elsewhere in Harris County, it's important to get the facts. You need a sex crime defense attorney who can determine if your case falls within or beyond the Texas statute of limitations for that crime.
Fortunately, the Neal Davis Law Firm can help. We will give you legal advice in the form of a case review after you contact us. There's no charge and no obligation to you.
After your initial consultation, you can decide how you want to proceed with your case. That may involve citing a Texas statute of limitations which protects you from prosecution after a certain time period has passed.
Contact us today, and let's get started defending your legal rights.