A statute of limitations is a law that prescribes a specific time frame for how long a person has to file a claim on a particular matter before they are barred from doing so. They apply to both civil and criminal actions, and their time limits will vary by jurisdiction and the type of claim.
What are the California Statutes of Limitations on Sexual Abuse Crimes?
As discussed above, the time period set by a statute of limitations will vary depending on the jurisdiction and the type of claim. Thus, the statute of limitations for sexual abuse crimes in California will differ based on whether it is a criminal or civil action being filed. The time limit to file will also be contingent on the age of the victim (e.g., was the victim a child or an adult?).
According to the California Penal Code, a prosecutor must file charges within 10 years of the offense if the victim was an adult. On the other hand, if the victim was a child (i.e., a minor under 18 years of age) when the incident occurred, then the prosecutor has until the victim’s 40th birthday to file charges.
There are also two exceptions to these time frames. Even if the limitation period has expired, A prosecutor may still file charges if they find independent supporting evidence of the crime, or if they are filed in compliance with California’s DNA exception rule.
As for civil cases concerning sexual abuse crimes, the California Code of Civil Procedure states that a person may file an action for recovery of damages within 10 years from the date of the incident if they were an adult when the crime occurred, or within three years from the date that they discover or reasonably should have discovered an illness or injury that resulted from the act if they were an adult and the incident occurred prior to 2019.
Similar to the criminal code limitation, victims who are or were children will have until their 40th birthday to file a civil action, or within 5 years of their discovery of the abuse. In addition, the new statute of limitations passed in 2020, also made it possible to revive claims that were previously barred by the old statute; so long as it is filed within 3 years.
Although the majority of civil claims involving sexual abuse crimes will primarily follow the same statute of limitations, the criminal statute of limitations will differ depending on the criminal offense. For instance, the time limit provided above for sexual abuse will not apply to prosecutors filing rape charges.
Finally, it should also be noted that one important outlier in regard to time limits for civil actions is California’s statute of limitations on sexual harassment. A person filing a claim based on sexual harassment will now have 1 year from the date of the last incident, and 6 months if the individual is submitting a report to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
Civil Lawsuits and Criminal Prosecutions for Sexual Abuse in California
In general, the primary difference between all civil and criminal cases is that civil actions are filed by private individuals who are seeking damages for their injuries, whereas criminal actions are filed by the state intending to punish and deter defendants from committing such offenses again.
Aside from this primary difference and the varying statute of limitation periods discussed above, there are several other factors that separate civil and criminal proceedings for sexual abuse in California.
As briefly discussed, the time limit that a prosecutor has to file charges will vary depending on the sexual crime committed. For example, unlike sexual abuse, there is no statute of limitations for charges of rape or sodomy. However, this only applies to sex crimes that occurred after the law was updated in January 2017; the exception being if the victim was a child.
Regardless of when or if criminal charges are filed, the statute of limitations period continues to tick for civil lawsuits. Thus, it is extremely important that a person seeking civil damages file their action within the allotted time period and before it expires.
Generally, the closer to an incident that a person brings an action, the more likely it is that case elements (such as evidence or witnesses) will be preserved and the more likely it is that the case will be successful.
In addition, a civil claim involving sexual assault will be based on a tort (usually an intentional tort), not a crime. Also, attorneys will only be required to prove “preponderance of the evidence”, not “beyond a reasonable doubt”, which is a much higher standard that is reserved for criminal matters.
Lastly, the stages of a case may proceed a bit differently when the victim is a child. For instance, some courts have implemented certain measures to protect young children involved in criminal cases.
What is California’s Statute of Limitations Regarding Child Molestation?
As discussed, the laws in California were recently updated to expand the amount of time that a child victim has to bring a claim. Under the new statute, a child victim or a victim who was a child when the incident occurred, has until their 40thbirthday to file an action, or 5 years from when the victim discovers or reasonably should have discovered an associated injury or illness.
For example, a child who was 12 years of age when they were molested will have until they are 40 years old to file a claim. However, it is better not to delay the case or else a person can risk losing important evidence and witnesses.
Alternatively, if a therapist does not discover any psychological injuries resulting from the incident until the person turns 41 years old, they will have 5 years to file a claim based on this new information.
Additionally, victims over 40 will need to provide a special certificate from a therapist stating why the harm could not have been discovered sooner. Also, their attorney will need to provide one as well that says they reviewed the therapist’s findings and the case, and have determined the case has merit.
Finally, there may be different requirements and legal consequences for child molestation incidents that specifically fall under California’s criminal statute for “lewd acts with a minor child.”
What is the Statute of Limitations for Statutory Rape in California?
Statutory rape refers to the criminal act of having unlawful sex with a minor. The reasoning behind all statutory rape laws is that minors cannot legally consent to have sex and thus require legal protections. Although many of the statute of limitations for sexual crimes have been updated, those time frames do not apply to the crime of statutory rape.
In the state of California, the statute of limitations on statutory rape is either 1 year for a misdemeanor offense, or 3 years for a felony offense. This crime will be charged as a felony if the minor was 3 years or younger in age than the offender, or if the minor was under 16 and the offender was at least 21 years old.
On the other hand, the decision to charge statutory rape as a misdemeanor offense is within the discretion of the prosecutor. The prosecutor may consider various factors in order to make their decision, such as:
- The defendant’s age;
- The strength of their case;
- The severity of the crime;
- How likely that the defendant will continue committing the offense; and
- Whether or not the defendant was a repeat offender.
Do I Need an Attorney for Help with California Sexual Abuse Statutes?
It is crucial that you file a civil claim within the statute of limitations or else you could be barred from recovering damages that you are rightfully owed.
Therefore, if you have any questions or concerns regarding the newly enacted sexual abuse statutes in California or need to file a claim, then you should strongly consider contacting a California attorney immediately for further legal guidance.
A California attorney will be able to explain the new regulations, can answer any questions or concerns you may have, and can help you prepare and file an action. Additionally, if the statute of limitations has expired, your attorney may be able to offer advice about whether there are any other options available for relief.