The media storm surrounding Bill Cosby have drawn attention to the statutory
limitations for bringing prosecutions against a defendant for alleged
criminal behavior many years ago. People are generally confused and believe
that an accused should be required to answer for their crimes irrespective
of the delay in reporting the conduct. The reality, however, is that most
crimes are solved and prosecutions are initiated in relatively short duration;
thus insuring the rights of a defendant to a speedy trial and validating
his/her due process to ascertain the credibility of the evidence before
time mars the memories of witnesses or critical exculpatory material is
lost or destroyed.
In California, once a crime is committed and a suspect is implicated, prosecutions
generally need to be brought within certain time frames. For misdemeanors,
it is usually one year and for felonies it is generally three years. Once
a case is charged, a defendant has a right to be tried within a specific
time frame. This "speedy trial"
right is particularly important to a defendant who is in custody and has
not waived the right to a speedy trial.
Criminal defense attorneys need to understand the Rules of Court and the
Penal Code codifications of the statute of limitations, due process and
speedy trial. Moreover, defense attorneys need to be vigilant in protecting
their clients from unreasonable delays (that is, without solid justification)
even in those situations where the State has complied with applicable
Without passing judgment on the merits of the accusations against Cosby,
it is clear that a suspect should not be required to locate witnesses,
find evidence and attempt to mount a defense to matters that
allegedly occurred 30 years ago.