How Statutes Are Determined
Depending on the crime and location, state or federal statutes can apply. Statutes also vary by the type of legal action taken. For example, there may be one statute to press criminal charges and another to file a civil lawsuit for the same crime.
A statute of limitations is dictated by many factors:
- Statutes vary by jurisdiction.
- Statutes vary based on the type and severity of the claim.
- Statutes vary based on the age of the victim.
- Statutes vary based on the age of the perpetrator.
- Statutes depend on a specific date, such as the date of the incident.
Statutes Of Limitations For Sex Crimes
Sex crimes, often referred to as sexual offenses, are generally handled at the state level. State lawmakers determine statutes for sexual offenses that occur in a state’s jurisdiction.
Some sexual offenses are federal crimes. The legal proceedings for these cases fall under federal jurisdiction and adhere to federal statutes. For example, if a perpetrator crosses state lines to commit the crime, the case may be moved to a federal court.
Because state lawmakers determine statutes for their individual states, statutes for the same crimes can vary significantly from state to state.
If you are a victim of a sexual offense, you will need to work with legal counsel to determine the relevant legal deadline for your case. This can change based on the crime and the state in which you are seeking legal action. Consult an experienced lawyer to determine the best legal options for your situation.
Most states have specific statutes pertaining to child sex abuse and other sexual offenses against minors. States generally have separate statutes for criminal charges and civil claims.
Historically, state statutes for child sexual abuse have been limited. In some states, survivors abused as children have minimal time after their eighteenth birthday to file a lawsuit. However, statistics around child sexual abuse show it can take years for survivors to open up about their abuse, let alone seek legal action.
State lawmakers have begun addressing this legal disparity between the time survivors need versus the time survivors have been given to file a lawsuit.
In recent years, many states have revised their criminal and/or civil statutes for child sexual abuse claims.
- 44 states eliminated their criminal statutes for child sex abuse claims.
- 10 states eliminated their civil statutes for child sex abuse claims.
- 18 states revived expired civil claims.
Increasing protections for survivors of childhood sexual abuse and sexual assault has been a focus among legislators in recent years. Since 2019, at least 23 states and the District of Columbia revised their civil or criminal statutes around child sexual abuse.
As state lawmakers revise child sex abuse laws, some states have also addressed statutes for sexual assault claims. For example, in 2016, Colorado lawmakers expanded the criminal statute of limitations for sexual assault claims from 10 years to 20 years. This statute applies to victims who are 15 years of age or older. In Colorado, there is no time limit to file felony charges of sexual offenses against a minor under the age of 15.
Tolling: Extending the Statute of Limitations
Tolling is an extension of a statute of limitations. The limitations period can be stopped and restarted for a number of reasons.
- The limitations period may be paused if a suspect leaves the state. The limitations period would resume when the suspect reenters the state.
- The limitations period may be paused if the victim is a minor.
- The limitations period may be paused if a victim is mentally incompetent.
Some states may also have a separate discovery rule for abuse survivors. A discovery rule may give some survivors more time to file a civil lawsuit if an abuse-related injury is discovered in adulthood.
Statute of Limitations FAQ
Is There A Statute Of Limitations On Child Sex Abuse?
Yes. Most states have a time limit on child sexual abuse cases.
Is There A Statute Of Limitations On Sexual Assault?
Yes, most states have civil and criminal statutes of limitations for crimes of sexual assault.
Why Do Statutes of Limitations Exist?
A statute of limitations is meant to protect the fairness of legal proceedings. Over time, criminal evidence tends to deteriorate. The same applies to witness testimony. Legal deadlines help ensure the legal process is prompt and evidence is still viable.
In cases of child sexual abuse, it can take decades for a victim to process their trauma or report the incident. Critics argue short legal deadlines restrict the legal rights of these survivors. Many victims of child sexual abuse have missed their chance to file a lawsuit. By the time these victims were ready to seek legal action, the statute of limitations had passed.
Recognizing a serious legal barrier, lawmakers in several states have extended the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse victims.
For example, New York State lawmakers expanded the state’s civil statute of limitations and opened a “look back” window in 2019. During a “look back” window, expired civil cases are revived. Since the New York “look back” window opened, hundreds of survivors of child sexual abuse filed claims for incidents that took place decades ago.
As more states pass similar legislative measures, more survivors of child sexual abuse will be able to seek justice for their abuse.
Child USA. (2020, March 6). 2020 SOL Summary.
Child USA. (2020, May 8). 2019 SOL Summary.
Legal Information Institute. (N.D.) Statute of Limitations. Cornell Law School.
Legal Resources. (N.D.) Statute of Limitations. HG.org.
RAINN. (N.D.) Understanding Statutes of Limitations for Sex Crimes.
Meneo Group managing partner: Ron Meneo
Ron Meneo is the managing partner of The Meneo Law Group. With more than 40 years of experience, he represents clients across the country on a variety of complex legal matters, including personal injury due to institutional sexual abuse, unsafe pharmaceutical drugs and other practice areas. He is a recipient of Martindale-Hubbell’s prestigious AV® Preeminent Rating. He has also served as an editor and contributor for several legal journals.