Legislative Memo: Statute of Limitations Expansion for Certain Sex Offenses

Subject: A.2596/Markey

AN ACT to amend the criminal procedure law, in relation to the timeliness of prosecutions for certain sex offenses; and to amend the civil practice law and rules, in relation to the timeliness for commencing certain civil actions related to sex offenses

A.5708/Lopez
Position: OPPOSE, WITH QUALIFICATION

These bills would extend the period in which one may file civil and criminal suits involving certain sex crimes committed against minors. Because the NYCLU was cited in the sponsor's Memorandum in Support of A.5708 and in a recent New York Times article about these two bills,1 we write to clarify our position. While the NYCLU takes no position on the other provisions of the bills, we oppose those provisions that would extend statutes of limitations regarding criminal prosecutions.

Crimes committed against children, sex crimes in particular, are especially heinous. And it is appropriate that criminal procedure rules account for the fact that young people often face numerous obstacles that make it difficult for them to take immediate action when the victim of such a crime. It is for this reason that there are provisions in the criminal procedure law that toll the statute of limitations in such cases for five years after the alleged victim has reached the age of majority.

However, statutes of limitations play an essential role in the criminal justice system and are carefully designed to preserve the right to prosecute, while also protecting defendants' rights. Statutes of limitations assure fairness to defendants by "preventing surprises through the revival of claims that have been allowed to slumber until evidence has been lost, memories have faded, and witnesses have disappeared." 2 In any prosecution that takes place after a significant passage of time, an innocent person accused of a crime may be unable to remember where he or she was on a particular day. Alibi witness' memories fade, or such witnesses move away or otherwise become inaccessible.

Sex crimes provoke strong emotions, as do allegations of sex crimes. For this very reason it is incumbent upon law makers to recognize that the criminal justice system is susceptible to error and abuse, and that as a consequence persons who are entirely innocent may become the targets of criminal prosecutions. For these reasons we oppose those provisions in both A.2596 and A.5708 that would extend the statutes of limitations on criminal offenses, and we urge the legislature to strike these provisions.


1 Vitello, Paul. "Religious Leaders Battle Abuse Bill in New York." New York Times. March 11, 2009. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/12/nyregion/12abuse.html

2 See Pedzewick v. Foe, 963 F.Supp. 48 (D. Mass 1997), for a discussion on the purpose of statutes of limitations.