Being accused of a sex crime can be frightening and overwhelming. The legal process is complicated and the penalties you face are severe. That is why California law attempts to protect people from false accusations. If there’s a lack of evidence against you, formal charges will not likely be filed. For this reason, there is a statute of limitations on filing charges for crimes in California.
A statue of limitations is essentially a time limit on when charges can be filed against you for a crime. This time limit exists because evidence, including the recollection of witnesses and the parties involved, deteriorates over time.
The statute of limitations varies for each crime. One crime that has a long statute of limitations is child molestation. Why is that? Let’s find out why the law allows prosecution of child molestation for a long period of time.
Child Molestation Under California Law (PC 288)
Child molestation crimes are covered under California Penal Code Section 288. Under PC 288, it is unlawful to touch a child younger than 14 years of age on his or her body in a sexual manner.
The alleged contact does not have to be with a sexual organ or on the bare skin of the child in order to find you guilty of this crime. Touching a child in any sexual nature, including through the child’s clothing, can result in a criminal conviction. The full elements of this crime include:
- You purposefully touched a child’s body either on the bare skin or through the clothing, OR
- You purposefully caused the child to touch his or her own body, your body or someone else’s body, either on the bare skin or through clothing, AND
- You “committed the act with the intent of arousing, appealing to, or gratifying the lust, passions, or sexual desires of yourself or of the child,” AND
- The child was under the age of 14 at the time of the incident
Statute of Limitations for Child Molestation
Now that you understand the elements of the crime of child molestation, let’s explain the statute of limitations for this crime. The statute of limitations for PC 288 is complicated because there are two ways it is enforced.
The first part of the statute of limitations for child molestation is simple. In order to be prosecuted for this crime, charges must be filed within 10 years of the child’s 18th birthday. This means charges can be filed until the alleged victim turns 29 years old. However, there is another way to legally file charges after this 10-year statute of limitations has expired.
California allows perpetrators to be prosecuted within one year of when the crime was reported to police regardless of when the crime was allegedly committed. This law essentially makes the statute of limitations for child molestation moot. However, this does not mean that all allegations of PC 288 can be charged at any time. For this exception to apply, the following requirements must be met:
- The crime must have involved substantial sexual conduct, AND
- There must be independent evidence that supports the alleged victim’s claims
This brings up the question “what is considered substantial sexual conduct?” Under California law, “substantial sexual conduct” is any sexual act with a minor that involves vaginal or anal penetration as well as oral sex acts.
In order to protect those who may be falsely accused of child molestation due to the exception to the statute of limitations for the crime, there are some requirements that must be met regarding the evidence in the case.
If the victim is 21 years old or older at the time he or she reported the crime, there must be “clear and convincing” independent evidence presented to show that the victim’s allegations are true.
Independent evidence means that there must be some other evidence rather than the victim’s allegations. For example, the victim may be required to show that he or she sought treatment for this alleged incident from a therapist or reported the incident to a family member or friend.
The police will also expect an explanation of why the victim waited so long to report the crime. This additional requirement reduces the likelihood of false accusations. However, false allegations of child molestation are very common.
Why Does Child Molestation Have an Exception to Its Statue of Limitations?
So, the exception to the statute of limitations for child molestation basically means that you could be charged with this crime at any time, even if the alleged incident occurred 50 years ago. Why does this exception exist? Doesn’t it ruin the point of the statute of limitations?
The policy behind this law is the believe that children who are molested may repress traumatic experiences at an early age, or even if they understand what happened to them, they may be too embarrassed to come forward. The statute of limitations exception gives those victims a chance to come forward and seek justice.
Call the Child Molestation Defense Attorneys at Wallin & Klarich Today
False accusations of child molestation can ruin your career, your reputation, and your life. That is why you should contact an experienced criminal defense attorney right away if you have been accused of child molestation or another sex crime.
At Wallin & Klarich, our skilled attorneys have been successfully defending clients facing both state and federal child molestation charges for over 35 years. We will meet with you immediately to review the facts of your case, and devise a strong defense strategy that will help you obtain the very best outcome possible.
With offices located in Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Los Angeles, San Diego, West Covina, Victorville and Torrance, there is an experienced Wallin & Klarich criminal defense attorney available to help you no matter where you work or live.
Call us today at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (877) 466-5245 for a free phone consultation. We will get through this together.