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Georgia Court of Appeals Affirms Dismissal of Rape Indictment

April 25, 2017

In State v. Watson, the Georgia Court of Appeals held that the trial court properly granted the defendant’s plea in bar on statute of limitations grounds to his indictment for rape.

The Court held that the statute of limitations was not tolled since the defendant’s identity was not “unknown” to the State.

The evidence showed that in 1996, the alleged victim entered the defendant’s apartment to use the telephone. Though she reported to police that a stranger had raped her, she did not report that it occurred in the defendant’s apartment. Instead, fearing embarrassment from her father, the alleged victim reported that she was raped on the side of the road.

In 2013, the alleged victim revealed her knowledge of the defendant’s name, address and phone number. That year, the State arrested the defendant based on DNA evidence, however, the State did not indict him until 2015. The defendant filed a plea in bar alleging that the indictment should be dismissed because the statute of limitations had expired. The trial court granted the plea in bar and dismissed the indictment. The State appealed.

The State asserted that the trial court erred in granting the defendant’s plea in bar because the indictment was filed within the statute of limitations period. Furthermore, the State argued that the DNA evidence allowed it to prosecute the offense at any time. The Court of Appeals disagreed and held that the State had failed to present the DNA evidence at the plea in bar hearing.

The State argued that the statute of limitations should have been tolled until the point in which the identity of the defendant became known. The tolling provision, O.C.G.A. § 17-3-2 (2), provides that the limitations period is tolled if the identity of the person who committed the crime is unknown, and that the tolling ceases once the State has actual knowledge of the defendant’s identity.

At the hearing on the plea in bar, the alleged victim testified that the defendant told her his name on the day of the incident and may have also given her his phone number. Since the knowledge of the alleged victim can be imputed to the State, the Court held that the State had actual knowledge of the defendant’s identity since the day of the incident in 1996. Therefore, the Court held that the trial court’s findings were not clearly erroneous and affirmed the granting of the defendant’s plea in bar.

As a result, the Court affirmed the dismissal of the rape charges against the defendant.

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