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Bill Cosby and Statutory Limitations

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 time frames.

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.