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Does California have a statute of limitations for rape?

The short and quick answer to the headline question posed above is that, yes, California — like most states — has a statute that limits the amount of time a person has for bringing a criminal complaint alleging a felony sexual offense against another party.

In California, as noted in a recent Los Angeles Times article discussing the statute of limitations (SOL) applicable to felony sexual offense, that cutoff period is 10 years from the date the offense occurred, in most cases (time can be extended if new DNA evidence is discovered).

The justification often cited for statutes that bar criminal prosecutions after a stated time is that the public interest is duly served by removing the potential for a case to come forward at an extremely remote time in the future. Memories fade. Witnesses die. Evidence is destroyed. Ultimate justice can be undermined.

In fact, says one California legislator, justice is not well served at all by the imposition of SOL deadlines on sexual crimes. In fact, contends Sen. Connie M. Leyva (D-Chino), a time bar placed on the prosecution of an offense like rape, sodomy or sexual abuse of a child flatly denies justice to victims in many cases.

That needs to be changed, says Leyva, who recently announced that she will introduce legislation calling for the elimination of any prosecution deadline on felony sexual offenses in the next formal session of the California Legislature in January.

Leyva finds the imposition of SOL cutoff periods to be nonsensical and unfair. Predators are advantaged, she says, when they can escape liability for heinous acts “for no other reason than that the time limits set in state law have expired.”

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