George F. Hildebrandt
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The Effect of Time on a Sexual Assault Accusation

The recent charging of a prominent celebrity for sexual assault in Pennsylvania stemming from an incident that was claimed to have occurred in 2004 has raised questions regarding the statute of limitations for such a crime, not only in Pennsylvania, but around the country. The statute of limitations for charging a person with a crime is the time within which a prosecutor may charge a person for a crime before being barred under the law. In the Pennsylvania case, the statute of limitation was supposed to expire in January 2016.

Under New York law, there is no statute of limitations for certain sexual crimes including first degree rape, first degree criminal sexual act, first degree aggravated sexual abuse, and first degree course of sexual conduct against a child. Rape in the first degree in New York is defined as having sexual intercourse with another person by forcible compulsion, when the person is physically helpless, or is less than a certain age. For other sexual crimes that are classified as felonies, the statute of limitation is five years, while for misdemeanors the statute of limitation is two years.

Why is There a Statute of Limitations?

One argument for a statute of limitations for sexual and other crimes is that the prosecution of a crime many years after it occurs can prove unfair to the defendant, who may not have access to evidence and witnesses who may exonerate him. Also, offenses that are alleged to have occurred decades prior are difficult to investigate and prosecute. Some of the concerns revolving around decades-old evidence have been eliminated with the availability of DNA testing. In cases where physical evidence was collected when a sexual assault was reported, a DNA comparison may subsequently result in prosecution - or exoneration - of a person suspected of committing an offense.

The other side of the argument, one against a statute of limitations, especially for a crime such as rape, is that the victim may not always report the crime immediately due to fear, age or other personal reasons. If the victim later feels able to report the crime, it is argued that he or she should be able to get justice no matter how much time has passed.

As the trial mentioned above proceeds, the effect of time on the ability to prosecute a sex crime may become evident, especially when there was little physical evidence when the crime was originally reported. However, in this particular case, the defense may have a harder time convincing the potential jury to base their decision on the case before them, and not on the other cases against the defendant that have been in the media for the better part of the last year.

Contact a Syracuse Criminal Defense Attorney

If you or someone you know has been accused of a sexual assault, you need to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney. Contact the experienced Syracuse sex crimes defense attorney George Hildebrandt for a consultation.

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