When you experience sexual assault, the aftermath can feel overwhelming. You may be unsure what your next steps should be, or what your legal options are for seeking justice against the perpetrator. If you choose to pursue civil and/or criminal action, you will need to file your case by a specific deadline known as the statute of limitations. If you do not file within the specified time-frame, the court will likely refuse to hear your case.
Why Are Statutes of Limitations in Place?
States impose statutes of limitations on all types of cases, both civil and criminal. The purpose of this deadline is to ensure that evidence remains fresh and accessible, witnesses are still alive and have the ability to testify on the stand, and that the court can make a just conviction based on the evidence at hand.
In addition, many sexual assault cases rely on forensic sexual assault medical exams, also known as rape kits, as significant pieces of evidence. In many states, there is inadequate space to store and preserve these exams. As a result, waiting a longer time to file your claim increases the chance of the hospital or forensic lab losing this evidence or for the evidence to deteriorate.
When it comes to sexual assault cases, these elements are highly important. In addition, many courts may cast suspicion on survivors who wait for long periods of time to file their cases — even though there are many legitimate reasons to do so. If you are struggling with the aftermath of sexual assault, it is important to contact a sexual assault attorney as soon as possible to ensure that you understand your legal options and the deadlines you need to abide by.
Statutes of Limitations on Sexual Assault
States have the power to define the statutes of limitations for all cases, including sexual assault charges. As a result, the deadline by which you must file your case depends on the state you are filing in.
- California does not impose a statute of limitations for almost all of its felony-level sex crimes. However, the state does impose a deadline for rape cases. If the survivor was under 18 at the time of the assault, he or she can file at any time before his or her 40th birthday. For adult cases, the prosecution must bring charges against the perpetrator within 6 years.
- In Washington, survivors have 20 years after the assault to file charges against the perpetrator for first and second-degree rape. Third-degree rape has a 10-year deadline. If the survivor was under the age of 16 at the time of the assault, no statute of limitations applies for first and second-degree rape.
- Nevada does not impose a deadline for sexual assault if the survivor files a written report within four years if he or she was an adult, or by the time he or she turns 21 is the assault occurred when he or she was a minor. If the survivor does not file a report within this timeframe, he or she must file charges within 20 years. If the survivor was a child, he or she must bring the case by his or her 36th birthday, or before his or her 43rd birthday if he or she did not or could not reasonably discover the assault by the earlier deadline.
Some states have eliminated their statutes of limitations for all felony sex crimes. These include Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming. Arizona and Illinois do not impose a statute of limitations for sexual assault, but these states do have deadlines for other sex crimes.
Statutes of limitations for sexual assault vary from state to state, so it is important to seek legal assistance from an attorney with experience representing survivors in their sexual assault cases. Your Uber sexual assault attorney will be able to advise you on what your time limits are regarding your case, and can help you understand your legal options. Contact a sexual assault attorney as soon as possible to discuss your next steps and ensure you meet the statute of limitations.