Perhaps in response to the public outrage over the inability to prosecute Syracuse Assistant Coach Bernie Fine (see our post, Will the Bernie Fine Case Spell the End of Statutes of Limitations in Child Sex Cases?), the legislature has now essentially eliminated the statute of limitations in child sex offense cases in Georgia.
Under the previous law, a seven-year statute of limitations on such crimes served to limit the bringing of decades-old claims against alleged offenders. If the victim of a sex offense was under the age of 16 at the time of the crime, the statute of limitations required a prosecution to commence within seven years after the alleged victim turned 16 or reported the offense to law enforcement, whichever occurred first. The new law, effective July 1st, eliminates the statute of limitations for most sex offenses against minors committed after the enactment of the statute. For offenses that are alleged to have been committed prior to July 1st of this year, the old statute of limitations will remain in effect.
Peculiarly, a number of offenses appear to be unaccounted for under the new law. For example, in the section of the statute that discusses the treatment of crimes committed after July 1st, the crime of statutory rape is not mentioned. Although some of this confusion may just be a drafting error, defendants will be able to use the discrepancy as an opportunity to argue that the unaccounted for offenses fall under the default statute of limitations for felonies (seven years in the case of a felony against someone under 18).
Legislators no doubt harped on the Bernie Fine and Jerry Sandusky cases during committee meetings and discussions of the proposed changes. As many of Sandusky’s accusers were older than 23 at the time of the trial and had not reported the incidents to law enforcement prior to then, many of these offenses would not have been prosecutable under the former Georgia law.
Due to the overwhelming national media attention given to child sex offense cases, Georgia legislators may have felt enormous political pressure to act by removing any temporal limits on prosecuting sex offense charges. The bill’s sponsor even commented that voting against a bill designed to protect children from sexual predators would be “political suicide.”
To learn more about how we defend individuals accused of sex crime offenses in Georgia, visit Our Cases.
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