Statute of limitations

Discussion in 'Ethics, Morality, & Justice' started by dbnp48, Jan 25, 2011.

  1. dbnp48 Q.E.D. Registered Senior Member

    Some crimes (such as murder) can be charged regardless of how much time has elapsed between the commission of the crime and the charge. With others, a charge must be made within a specified number of years or no charge can be made.

    In your opinion, which crimes should NOT have a statute of limitations?
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  3. cosmictraveler Be kind to yourself always. Valued Senior Member

    Child molestation

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  5. Read-Only Valued Senior Member

    My opinion? None of them should have limitations. A crime is STILL a crime - and just because someone can avoid prosecution for some specific length of time is no reason to let them off scott-free.

    The only reason the limitations were established in the first place was to reduce the workload on investigators and courts, plus the fact that witnesses die, move away and memories fade over time. But if new evidence surfaces through whatever means, the crime should still be treated as if it happened just yesterday - regardless of what the calendar says about it.
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  7. Pandaemoni Valued Senior Member

    That first part is not factually accurate. States of limitations are at least as old as Roman law, have been in ours since before America was a free nation, and not just a dodge to reduce workloads. The real reason for them is the latter point you make: witnesses and evidence disappear, people change their stories, etc.

    In a common law system, where witness testimony is the paramount kind of evidence, it is an issue that many of the witnesses that the defense might have used might no longer recollect things as well as they once would have. It also becomes harder to challenge witnesses for the prosecution, since the evidence that their testimony is wrong will be harder to come by.

    Those concerns get weighed against the severity of the crime, but our system also heavily favors the accused. Better that a thousand guilty men go free than one innocent man be convicted, as they say.

    The longer the statute of limitations, the more innocent men will be wrongfully convicted. To the extent the system we want is "no statute of limitations where the accused really is guilty", that is a very difficult system to design. We could try a system, where the statute of limitations can be waived if a judge finds that the new evidence is on its face overwhelming, but that then adds the possibility of judicial capriciousness as a factor in the analysis.

    Murder is an understandable exception, given the severity of the crime, but I don't think I'd extend it too much further than that (and I'd take the death penalty off the table after a certain period of time in murder cases).
  8. Read-Only Valued Senior Member

    You make an excellent and logical case. I can accept that.

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  9. Parmenides Registered Senior Member

    I think this is a good summary of the issues involved. I think having statutes of limitations is important for another reason and that is people should be able to arrange their lives without fear of prosecution or civil litigation. As said above, as time passes, memories fade, evidence is lost or destroyed, and so on.

    I think the a major exception to a statute of limitations in addition to those already listed would be for child sex abuse offences. This is a problem because the victims are often intimidated into not reporting the crime and only come forwards decades after the fact. This has been a particular issue in places like the Catholic Church, which allowed molesting priests and church workers to keep abusing despite complaints. In this case, the policy arguments for time-barring actions is certainly equalled, if not outweighed, by the need to give victims justice.

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