Martin & Kent, L.L.C. Martin & Kent, L.L.C.

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Should sex crimes have a limitation period in Illinois?

The Dennis Hastert case has raised questions, both in the sense that it seems he is being prosecuted for an unusual charge, that of the financial crime of "structuring," while the more ominous crime, that of alleged sexual abuse of a school student was ignored. 

In Illinois, as many other states, there is what is known as "statutes of limitation" that govern when you can bring a lawsuit or be charged with a crime. Part of the idea is that it is best to resolve any legal matter when events are fresh in everyone's mind, documents are readily available and have not been damaged, destroyed or lost, and justice is served by wrongs being righted and wrongdoers being punished within a reasonable time.

The statutes of limitation can be applied to entire classes of lawsuits or crimes, such as contracts or assaults, or they can apply to specific types of cases such as murder. And they can vary in period from 1 year for many cases and crimes, while crimes such as murder have no limitation period.

Sex crimes present many particular problems for prosecutors. There are often only the alleged victim and the allege perpetrator as witnesses. Individuals making these accusations often appear hesitant and unwilling to bring their charges soon after the events, due to embarrassment regarding the event, calling their credibility into question.

Some of the alleged victims are children, with questions of their suggestibility and uneasiness regarding their testimony and their reliability as witnesses.

Add the overlay of decades of intervening years, where some potential witnesses have died, memories have faded and those who can testify may be easily confused, and documents and records have faded or been lost, and prosecutions often fail because there are just too many missing parts to overcome reasonable doubt.

And this is an important reason why we have statutes of limitations. (Cont.)

Source: Washingtonpost.com, "How Josh Duggar and Dennis Hastert could change the laws on sex crimes," Janell Ross, June 9, 2015

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