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Cosby case raises questions about statute of limitations

Did you know that here in California, as well as other states across the nation, there is a statute of limitations when it comes to prosecuting certain crimes? With a statute of limitations, law enforcement has a certain number of years in which to prosecute someone for a crime before the law "forbids prosecutors from charging someone with [that] crime." This is true with the exception of some crimes such as murder, as we pointed out in an August post.

As you may have already realized, the purpose of a statute of limitations on crimes is to ensure that a conviction is based on evidence that has not been deteriorated by time -- this includes physical as well as eyewitness testimony. Any reasonable person would not expect prosecutors to move forward with charges if the evidence was deteriorated or if the allegations were made after the statute of limitations had expired.

But the sexual assault case against comedian and actor Bill Cosby is raising questions about the Los Angeles Police Department's decision to investigate the allegations against him.  One particular question is whether law enforcement can push the boundaries of a statute of limitations for the purpose of an investigation.

According to California law, prosecution for adult rape cases has a statute of limitations of 10 years while rape cases involving minors can be prosecuted even if the incident took place as far back as 1988.  In the Cosby case some of the allegations exceed the statute of limitations, meaning the comedian should not be prosecuted for the alleged crimes.  But other allegations do fall within the statute's legal limits, begging the question: how will police proceed?

As we mentioned above, the LAPD plans on investigating the allegations of sexual assault, including those that exceed the statute of limitations.  But is this legal?  According to the Los Angeles County head district attorney, yes.  Prosecutors may use out-of-statute allegations to "bolster their cases," which, as you probably realize, creates a legal gray area that could mean extensive litigation for Cosby is prosecutors decide to press charges.  This also creates a need for legal counsel, a fact our readers should not overlook either.

Sources:  The Los Angeles Times, "LAPD chief is open to investigating Bill Cosby sexual assault allegations," Kate Mather and Richard Winton, Dec. 4, 2014

FindLaw, "Time Limits for Charges: State Criminal Statutes of Limitations," Accessed Dec. 9, 2014

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