Statutes of limitation can be a confusing concept. Even for lawyers, they can be tricky to understand.
The basic principle of such statutes is that there should be a time limit within which a legal action must begin, if it is to begin at all. The rationale is that, in general, past conduct shouldn't hang over someone's head forever.
A recent Missouri case turns on a 67-year-old man's belief that the statute of limitations had run out on potential charges for sexual conduct with two high school girls many years ago. The man, a former teacher who had been living in Minnesota, turned himself in to St. Louis County authorities late last month.
"This is the first time we've had someone contact our office and say, "I want to talk about what I did," said St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch.
The two alleged incidents of sexual contract with a minor occurred at different points in time. One was in the 1970s and the other in the mid-1990s.
McCulloch acknowledged that the statute of limitations for rape and sodomy have changed over the years. This is because the legislature has changed the laws.
Despite the ambiguity, however, the 67-year-old former teacher was arrested, jailed and charged with sex offenses in the two incidents. At the time of his arrest, the former teacher did not have a prior criminal record in Missouri.
Clearly a case like this is a cautionary tale for anyone considering coming forward to talk with police about past incidents. Keep in mind that it is not necessary to be charged with an offense before consulting a criminal defense lawyer.
Seeking legal counsel can help someone weigh the pros and cons carefully before volunteering to share information with law enforcement.
Source: "Donald Ingerson, Former St. Louis-Area School Teacher, Charged With Rape," Huffington Post, 7-31-12
Our firm handles situations similar to those discussed in this post. To learn more about our practice, please visit our page on defending charges of sexual conduct with a minor.