The law has always feared the hazards of long-delayed prosecutions. The chief concern impelling limitations – that memories dim over time and that evidence is likely to become lost or dispersed – appears at first blush to be irrelevant in the face of today’s more exacting science.
If DNA can prove, within 99.9 percent certainty, that a defendant was the perpetrator of an unsolved rape, why not send him to prison? Yet what if his defense to the charge is consent?
Forensic science can often establish identity with near certainty, but it is not a time machine that can transport us backward so that we recapture every nuance of a largely forgotten event…
Statutes of limitations have also traditionally embodied a moral judgment that if a person has lived blamelessly for a significant time, he should not have the anxiety of potential prosecution hanging over him forever.
The practical reasons that Turow talks about, that is, the increased difficulty of mounting a defense for an innocent person, is important but it is the second reason that is more compelling still…
Should a man have to face charges for something he supposedly did more than 5 years before? 10? 20?
Who among us can say we’ve never “gotten away with something”?
Bearing in mind that all United States jurisdictions allow the Government a lifetime to prosecute murder, do we really need to extend the limits for prosecuting non-violent crimes?