Statute of Limitations as a Defense to Sex Crimes in Georgia.

In Georgia, the legislature has enacted a statute of limitation of all crimes. Sometimes, however, that statute provides that a prosecution may be brought at any time (i.e. Murder). Generally, this principle limits the amount of time that prosecutors have to bring charges against someone accused of a crime.

There are few certainties in the law and lawyers oftentimes joke that the answer to all questions is “it depends.” Statutes of Limitations provide a rare certainty where attorneys can review the statute, apply it the facts at hand, and provide their client with a solid answer.

This is not a new principle, in fact, Dating back to 1652 the colony of Massachusetts had a statute of limitations of one year on criminal prosecutions.

Why Do We Have Statutes of Limitations?

Statutes of Limitations may seem like a curious principle. If someone is accused of a crime, and prosecutors have evidence to prosecute the crime, then why should they be prevented from doing so?

Prevent Defendants From Defending against Old Accusations.

There are several theories on why we have a statute of limitations. This is the one that I believe is the most compelling. Fundamental principles of fairness demand that a defendant is afforded the opportunity to defend himself.

Imagine trying to defend against accusations that you committed a crime some twenty or twenty-five years ago. It is difficult enough to defend against charges that occurred three or four years ago (all too common), there is simply no way to fairly administer justice with such a time delay.

A witness may have passed away, moved, or simply forgotten and the stakes are simply too high for criminal defendants to allow this type of risk.

With no limits on prosecution, prosecutors would have free reign to present weak cases of heinous accusations against unpopular defendant’s. If they are able to do this decades after an allegation, then it will be impossible to defend oneself.

Providing Would Be Defendant’s with Peace of Mind

Imagine that in 1993 you were in a good old fashioned bar fight while in college. No one was seriously injured, but everyone got their licks in.

Now, in 2019 the supposed victim’s best friend has become the local prosecutor. Without statute of limitations the prosecutor could bring charges against you for the bar fight.

This case wouldn’t be hard to prove, everyone knows there was a bar fight. The witness is still present and available. So why not permit the prosecution (other than the problematic friendship between the prosecutor and alleged victim).

The reason is that at some point we must grant people peace of mind. No one should have to go there whole lives worrying about whether or not they are going to be prosecuted for a bar fight in 1993.

This is understandably a sliding scale that society has accepted. The more serious the crime, the longer we are ok with it looming over a defendant’s head.

Ensuring Alleged Victim Don’t Have to Wait Decades for Justice.

The principle here is simple. If someone is the victim of a crime, they should not be denied justice because of an inefficient government agency (in this case a prosecutor’s office). So, the statute of limitations puts pressure on prosecutors to move cases.

Statute of Limitations in Sex Crimes

As discussed above there is a sliding scale when it comes to the statutes of limitations in sex crimes. The more serious the allegations, the longer the prosecutors have to charge someone with a crime.

Generally, prosecutions for felonies must be commenced within four years after commission of the crime. If the victim, however, is under 18 at the time of the alleged offense the statute of limitations increases to seven years.

Additionally, if the crime is punishable by life in in prison (i.e. aggravated child molestation, aggravated sodomy, aggravated sexual battery) then the government has seven years to initiate a prosecution.

Another exception is rape, a prosecution for rape must be commenced within 15 years of the commission of the crime. When DNA evidence is used to determine who allegedly committed the crime, however, the law states that there is no time limit on commencing a prosecution for rape.

Exception I: DNA Used to Identify the Suspect

The Georgia General Assembly has provided an exception in certain cases where DNA is used to identify the alleged perpetrator of a crime.

If DNA is used to identify the perpetrator, then a prosecution for rape, aggravated child molestation, aggravated sodomy, or aggravated sexual battery may be commenced at anytime.

Exception II: Crime Committed after July 1, 2012 and Victim is Under 16.

Effective July 1, 2012 the Georgia General Assembly expanded the period of times for which certain prosecutions could be commenced. To qualify for this expanded period of time the victim must have been under sixteen years old at the time of the alleged offense and the crime must have been committed after July 1, 2012. This exception only applies to the following crimes:

This Exception only applies to certain sex offenses involving a minor:

  1. Trafficking a person for sexual servitude.
  2. Cruelty to Children in the First Degree
  3. Rape
  4. Aggravated Sodomy
  5. Child Molestation
  6. Aggravated Child Molestation
  7. Enticing a Child for Indecent Purposes
  8. Incest

Exception III: Crime Committed Between 07/01/1992 and 06/30/2012 and Victim was Under 16.

In the above situation (within that time frame and involving a minor) prosecutions for the following crimes must be commenced within the applicable statute of limitations. The limitations, however, do not begin to run until the victim turns sixteen or the violation is reported to the law enforcement.

  • Cruelty to Children
  • Rape
  • Sodomy
  • Aggravated Sodomy
  • Statutory Rape
  • Child Molestation
  • Aggravated Child Molestation
  • Enticing a Child for Indecent Purposes

What Happens if Prosecutors Charge Me After the Statute of Limitations?

A prosecution commenced outside of the Statute of Limitations can be presented in a couple of ways. Primarily you will see it presented as a plea in bar, or as an argument at trial.

A plea in bar quite literally is an answer that a defendant can give that defeats the charges against him. This plea in bar would be filed and heard by a judge before a trial. A favorable ruling would defeat your case.

At trial prosecutors must prove that the crime occurred within the statute of limitations. If they fail to do so, then your attorney may as the judge for a directed verdict of acquittal after the government rests their case. If that for some reason fails, then the argument must be made to the jury that the prosecutors have not proven that the crime occurred within the statute of limitations beyond a reasonable doubt.

Contact J. Ryan Brown Law, LLC

If you believe that you are under investigation, or if you or a loved one have been arrested for a sex crime, then call J. Ryan Brown Law at (470) 635-1725 and set up a consultation with Ryan Brown today. Don’t talk to the cops alone. Don’t fight your charges alone.

This blog is presented by J. Ryan Brown Law, LLC. You can find the firm’s website at

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