August 30, 1999
CRIMINAL STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS FOR SEXUAL ABUSE OF A MINOR
By: Lawrence K. Furbish, Assistant Director
You asked for a brief summary and explanation of CGS § 54-193a, which establishes statute of limitations for criminal charges involving the sexual abuse of a minor.
Generally, a person must be prosecuted for committing a felony within five years and for a misdemeanor within one year, although there is no statue of limitations for people accused of a capital felony (death penalty case), a class A felony, or arson murder (CGS § 54-193). But for offenses involving sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, or sexual assault it is within two years of when the victim turns 18 or within five years of when the victim reports the offense to the police or state's attorney, whichever is earlier (but in no event less than five years from the date of the offense).
In 1990 the General Assembly first established a separate statute of limitations for crimes involving sexual abuse of a minor. It felt that sometimes, especially when the victim was very young, the existence of the crime was not known until after the statute of limitations had expired, meaning that the offender could not be prosecuted.
The original act (PA 90-279) extended the time period to prosecute someone convicted of sexual abuse of a minor to five or seven years from the date of the crime, depending on the age of the child victim. Someone committing such a crime against a 15-, 16-, or 17-year-old could be prosecuted within five years. Anyone committing such a crime against a child age 14 could be prosecuted within six years and a person committing such an offense against a child under age 14 could be prosecuted within seven years. In 1991 a technical amendment to the statute made it clear that the statute of limitations ran from the date of the crime.
In 1993 the Assembly changed the law to its present form. PA 93-340 potentially gives additional time to prosecute someone when the victim does not report the assault for several years, but less time if he or she reports it immediately. While the prior law was based on the date of the offense, the new law is based on the date the victim notifies the police or state's attorney of the offense. Thus, under the current law if a child was sexually abused at age five and reported the incident when he was age 12, it would be possible to bring a prosecution anytime until he reached age 17 whereas under the old law it could be brought only until age 12. But if the assault was reported immediately, under the new law it could be prosecuted only until age 10, rather than age 12 as allowed by prior law.
The law specifies that the time for prosecution cannot be less than five years from the date of the offense. This insures that this minimum five year period is available when the victim is an older child. For example, if the child was sexually abused at age 17 and immediately reported it to the police, without the five year minimum the statute of limitations would be three years (two years after reaching the age of majority) because this date is earlier than five years from the date the offense.
In 1991 the General Assembly also significantly increased the statute of limitations for bringing civil lawsuits for damages resulting from sexual abuse of a minor. It increased it from seven years after the act to the victim turning age 35. (i.e. within 17 years of the victim reaching the age of majority, which is age 18 (CGS § 52-577d).
One of the major reasons for these changes was testimony before the Judiciary Committee about how children who are sexually abused often repress the events and only remember them later in their lives. Many legislators wanted to insure that victims in these circumstances could still seek damages from the offenders who have assaulted them. The changes to the criminal statute were more limited than the civil statute because the criminal penalties have much more significant consequences.