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Statute of Limitations with Child Sex Offenses
by Gary Muldoon
Muldoon, Getz & Reston
Rochester, New York

The statute of limitations in criminal cases—five years for felony, two years for misdemeanor—usually begins when the crime is committed. But several “tolling” provisions exist, including sexual offenses involving children. CPL 30.10(3)(e) and (f) address this issue.

With offenses alleging sexual contact with a child under 18 (which are prosecuted under Penal Law article 130), the statute of limitations begins when the child turns 18. As an example, where a child-victim is 7 years old when the offense allegedly occurred, and is 16 years old when a criminal charge is filed, there is no statute of limitations issue: the time period has not even begun.

Exception where reported earlier

One exception to the tolling provision with child sexual offenses is set forth in the CPL 30.10: where a CPS report, or a report to law enforcement has been made, the time period begins at that point. CPL 30.10(3)(f). This issue was addressed by the Court of Appeals in People v Quinto, 18 NY3d 409 (2012).

In Quinto, several acts of sexual abuse by the victim’s grandfather occurred when the victim was a minor. More than five years later, after turning 19, she reported to the police that the grandfather was the perpetrator. At issue was an earlier police report that she had made.

Around the time of the acts of abuse, the victim had told the police that she had had consensual, unprotected intercourse with a boy her age. She had then made a written retraction of that accusation, resulting in the case being closed at the time.

The lower court dismissed the indictment, based upon the police report. The Appellate Division modified, reinstating the sex offenses, although the non-sex offenses were time-barred.

The Court of Appeals framed the issue as whether the information that was first disclosed to the police was a “report” sufficient to bar the tolling provision. Defendant argued that the victim’s statement placed police on notice and encompassed not just the sexual act that led to the pregnancy, but all of the crimes that defendant was indicted for. The Court of Appeals rejected defendant’s interpretation.

First, the statute refers to a report of “the offense” rather than “any offense.” Second, stated the Court, the information that the victim provided as a minor certainly was a report, “but the operative question is, a report of what?” The information did not provide a reasonable basis for authorities to suspect that she had been assaulted at home by a relative at an earlier time period. The report would have applied only to the incident that was directly derived from the information she had provided, the manner, time and place. No information in the police report linked the defendant, thus the Court held that the statute of limitations did not begin until she turned 18. The information provided earlier did not activate the statute of limitations because “she neither identified defendant as the perpetrator nor reported or revealed any of the sex offenses charged in the indictment.” One judge dissented.

Continuing crime

Another tolling provision is contained in CPL 30.10(3)(e), involving a “continuing crime:” Course of Sexual Conduct against a Child 2nd degree. That crime may be charged if filed within five years of the commission of the most recent act of sexual conduct.

Endangering

Other, related charges may have a different statute of limitations: for example, Endangering the Welfare of a Child, which may include non-sex conduct. The exception in CPL 30.10(3)(f) does not extend to this misdemeanor, which is contained in Penal Law article 260 rather than article 130, and thus has a two-year statute of limitations. People v Quinto, above; People v Heil, 70 AD3d 1490 (4th Dept 2010).

© 2013 by Gary Muldoon