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Crime and Statute of Limitations on Reporting


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#1 noamineo

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Posted 03 June 2013 - 02:42 PM

Hi, all.

 

I am doing some research for a novel, and I am one of those writers who tends to get very obsessive about being accurate over little details. In this particular book, one of the characters is nervous about going to the police because of a crime he may have commited some years earlier. He eventually finds out that the statute has expired, and he need fear no reprocusions.

 

The crime:

The character had an innapropriate relationship with an underage girl. Nothing physical happened, but they exchanged numerous explicit text messages and IM chats that may have implied that worse things happened. The crime was not reported, but the girl's father supposedly has transcripts of all the messages saved.

 

So, I need to know: what is the statute of limitations in California on a crime like that, how long does the character need to wait before he doesn't need to worry any more, and are there any other details I may have missed?

 

I've tried researching this myself, but while I can easily digest most computer related technobable, I am finding the law to be very confusing.

 

Thanks!

Noa



#2 Tax_Counsel

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Posted 03 June 2013 - 03:38 PM

First, note that simply having a sexually oriented conversation with a minor via text messages is not illegal. Exactly what was said would matter. If the character in your book sent to a minor in California material that is considered pornographic, he’d be at risk of prosecution for distribution of “harmful matter” to a minor under California Penal Code (PC) section 313.1. The punishment for that is a fine of up to $2,000 and/or up to one year in the county jail for a first offense. For that offense, PC § 802(a) provides the basic rule of limitation:

 

 

802.  (a) Except as provided in subdivision (b), (c ), (d), or (e), prosecution for an offense not punishable by death or imprisonment in the state prison or pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170 shall be commenced within one year after commission of the offense.
 
Because this is a crime that is not punishable by death or imprisonment in the state prison (instead, imprisonment is in the county jail) and subdivisions (b) through (e) do not address this offense, the time limitation for this offense is one year from the commission of the offense.
 
Note that if the defendant had previously been convicted of any other offense related to production of obsence or harmful matter, the situation changes because he is subject to punishment under PC § 1170(h). The sentence imposed under that section can result in up to 3 years in county jail. And, importantly for the statute of limitations purposes, the relevant statute of limitiation is now PC § 801:
 
801.  Except as provided in Sections 799 and 800, prosecution for an offense punishable by imprisonment in the state prison or pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170 shall be commenced within three years after commission of the offense.

 

So, in that case, the initial limitation period is three years from the date of the offense rather than one.

Note that in either case, if the defendant is out of the state when the crime is committed or thereafter, the time for prosecution is extended by the time the defendant is out of the state, up to a maximum 3 year extension under PC § 803(d).

 

If the idea is that the messages might provide evidence that he had engaged in some type of sexual activity with a minor, that is of course much more serious, the limitations period for those crimes will be longer. 



#3 noamineo

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Posted 03 June 2013 - 04:37 PM

All right, that is very helpful, so first of all, let me ask this: does the "clock" on the statute start when the crime is commissioned, or when the "victim" turns 18? I've seen both so I am just trying to clarify(again: obsessively correct on my details).

 

Now, I haven't actually settled on the exact nature of the crime, so let me just mine you for a little more data, here. Let's say, for the sake of argument, that the messeges did indicate something more serious had happened, but that was the only evidence? IE the victim is claiming nothing happened and that it was just harmless conversation? Then what does the statute become?

 

Also, who decides whether the material indicates something physical actually happened? If, for example, the messages took the form of a sexual role-play, could it be claimed that any indications were just more of the role-play?

 

I'm amazed at how much research I'm doing for such a minor character, but, then, this is the cross I bear, so to speak. Thank you so much for all the information so far!



#4 TheGeneral_KD

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Posted 03 June 2013 - 04:55 PM

All right, that is very helpful, so first of all, let me ask this: does the "clock" on the statute start when the crime is commissioned, or when the "victim" turns 18? I've seen both so I am just trying to clarify(again: obsessively correct on my details).

 

This is all state-specific stuff, so I'm just giving you generalities here. Generally, the statute runs from the time the offense is discovered to have been committed. Let's say that I steal $499 from your wall safe in June, and you don't discover that it's missing until the next June. I can't then say "Ha, ha, I stole your money", leaving you with no remedy. The statute (in my state and under these facts) would be one year, but the one year would not start running until the commission of the crime was discovered. In virtually every case, the offense date and the "discovery of a crime" date will be the same, but there are instances where they aren't. Now, my state (and probably most others) has a special exception for crimes of a sexual nature against children, in which case the statute doesn't start running until the child reaches the age of majority (18 in most every state, i would guess).

 

 

 

Also, who decides whether the material indicates something physical actually happened? If, for example, the messages took the form of a sexual role-play, could it be claimed that any indications were just more of the role-play?

 

 

Who decides? Well, at first, the prosecutors decide. They look at the facts and compare them to the elements of particular criminal statutes, and they charge what they think they can prove. Of course, anything can be "claimed", and the jury has to ultimately decide. Good luck on your book! Hope it does quite well!



#5 noamineo

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Posted 03 June 2013 - 05:02 PM

 Now, my state (and probably most others) has a special exception for crimes of a sexual nature against children, in which case the statute doesn't start running until the child reaches the age of majority (18 in most every state, i would guess).

 

 

Ok, first off the book takes place in California, and all this stuff happens in california. The minor character this is all concerning doesn't leave. So, do you happen to know how it works in california?

 

So: I have heard also that sometimes the laws work differently depending on the age of the minor(under 14 vs. over 14, etc), in this case the girl was a few weeks shy of her 15th birthday when the crime was discovered(but not reported). And, again, we're dealing with reporting, if that helps.

 

Just trying to get my details absolutely right, thanks again.



#6 noamineo

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Posted 03 June 2013 - 05:26 PM

Ok, after going over my work on the book so far, I've got two specific paths I can take here, and the statute determines which one. For this we're assuming the girl was just a few weeks shy of 15 when the incident happened and was discovered.

 

Scenario 1) the guy just basically had a sexually explicit conversation. Nothing was said by him that indicates anything bad happened(though she might have said some things, and for parts of it they only have her half of the conversation). What is the exact crime, what is the statute, and when does it start?

 

Scenario 2) there is indication that some physical things did happen, but nothing concrete. The chats could be construed completely as a roll-play, and again for parts of it they only have her half of the conversation. What is the exact crime, what is the statute, and when does it start?

 

If this doesn't work out I'm going to have to majorly re-write some characacter back-story...Thanks again!



#7 LegalwriterOne

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Posted 03 June 2013 - 05:26 PM

First, note that simply having a sexually oriented conversation with a minor via text messages is not illegal. Exactly what was said would matter. If the character in your book sent to a minor in California material that is considered pornographic, he’d be at risk of prosecution for distribution of “harmful matter” to a minor under California Penal Code (PC) section 313.1. The punishment for that is a fine of up to $2,000 and/or up to one year in the county jail for a first offense.

 

While the content of the messages matters, the crime can be more serious than 313.1.   It could be charged as a violation of 288.2 or 288.3, both of which are felonies.  288.2 has a 4 year statute of limitations and 288.3 has a 10 year statute of limitations.  288.3 also requires sex offender registration for life upon conviction.



#8 Tax_Counsel

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Posted 03 June 2013 - 07:29 PM

While the content of the messages matters, the crime can be more serious than 313.1.   It could be charged as a violation of 288.2 or 288.3, both of which are felonies.  288.2 has a 4 year statute of limitations and 288.3 has a 10 year statute of limitations.  288.3 also requires sex offender registration for life upon conviction.

 

As I read those sections, however, there must have been more than just the communication of "harmful” or obscene material. There must have been an intent to do something more with the minor. For example, PC § 288.2 requires that it be done “with the intent or for the purpose of seducing a minor.” Granted, if he had that intent (whether or not he acted on it) and the state could prove that, he'd have more serious problems. But from the author’s description of the events for his character, I didn’t get the impression that the character intended to do anything sexual with the minor or exploit the minor for some sexual purpose. But I agree it was worth pointing out these provisions as it reinforces the point that exactly what is said in the messages is important.



#9 Guest_FindLaw_Amir_*

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Posted 04 June 2013 - 08:20 AM

You may be interested in reading the LawBrain: Statute of Limitations article as a good resource to learn more about this topic.




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