Retroactive Statutes of Limitations (Part 3)

by | Aug 18, 2023 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

The Appellate Division concluded with the following in relevant part: In Thompson, the Court held that “a plain reading of N.J.S.A. 2C:1-6(c) requires the statute of limitations in cases involving DNA evidence to begin when the State possesses the physical evidence from the crime as well as the DNA sample from the defendant, not when a match is confirmed.” In neither Thompson nor Twiggs, was the Court asked to decide if the language in subsection (c) of N.J.S.A. 2C:1-6 tolls the running of a statute of limitations on a previously expired limitations period.

We recognize the strong and legitimate desire to ensure that crimes are appropriately punished. As we have explained, however, criminal statutes of limitations involve a legislative judgment of how to “balance the right of the public to have persons who commit criminal offenses charged, tried, and sanctioned with the right of the defendant to a prompt prosecution.” In 1990, the Legislature had balanced the public right against the rights of potential suspects and concluded that the appropriate statute of limitations for sexual assault was five years. That statute created a substantive defense and when the five-year period expired, the federal and New Jersey constitutions prohibited a retroactive revival of prosecution. See Stogner, 539 U.S. at 632-33. Therefore, we are bound to apply the law and the federal and New Jersey constitutions.

In summary, we hold that the DNA-tolling exception in N.J.S.A. 2C:1-6(c) was not intended to and does not apply to a statutory-limitations period that had already expired. Therefore, this matter is remanded with direction that the trial court enter an order granting defendant’s motion and dismissing, with prejudice, the criminal charge in this matter.

There are legitimate reasons for weighing suspects’ rights to a speedy prosecution. One reason is that a protracted delay will often leave the truly innocent without a defense. If your average person had to defend against accusations of something that happened more than thirty years ago, their memories and the memories of alibi witnesses will have been lost with the passage of time.