A statute of limitations dictates the time period within which a legal proceeding must begin. With advances in DNA technology, several states have extended or eliminated the statute of limitations for the equivalent of rape in the first degree. Some states have a DNA exception that extends or eliminates the statute of limitations starting when DNA evidence identifies the perpetrator.
A jurisdiction’s statute of limitations may prevent the prosecution of a perpetrator despite DNA evidence linking him or her to a cold case. In determining whether a case is prosecutable, law enforcement will consider the original statute of limitations, whether the statute has been extended or eliminated, and if so, whether that change affects the present case, and whether there is an applicable exception to the statute.
Even if the statute of limitations has expired, there may be other ways for a survivor to see the perpetrator brought to justice. For example, Texas passed legislation in 2009 that requires a notation on a suspect’s criminal history when DNA results link him to an unsolved sexual assault even though the statute of limitations has expired and the suspect was never brought to trial. The parole board, prosecutors and judges can consider the notation on the suspect’s criminal history when making parole or sentencing decisions regarding other crimes.