MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Reality TV star Josh Duggar has apologized for what he called “wrongdoing” in response to reports he molested five girls starting in 2002. Authorities have reportedly said he can’t be prosecuted because the statute of limitations has run out.

So, why do we have time limits on prosecuting crimes? Good Question.

“The problem is that stories change and evidence disappears and at some point we’re not confident that we’re going to get an accurate portrayal of what happened 20 years ago,” said David Larson, a professor of law at Hamline University.

Outside of federal crimes, each state legislature determines its own numbers for limits. Depending on the criminal or civil case, when the clock starts ticking is different for each case. It could be when the crime or negligence first happened, when it was first reported or when its effects were discovered.

“The Sixth Amendment says everyone has a right to a speedy trial and that’s kind of where it starts,” said Larson.

In Minnesota, there is no criminal statute of limitations for murder, kidnapping or trafficking of a minor. Trafficking of an adult and bribery are six years and arson and check forgery are five years. Sex offenses on an adult are nine years, while sex offenses on a minor are nine years or three years after it’s reported, whichever is longer. If there is DNA evidence in a sex offense, there is no limit.

For civil statutes of limitations, contract breaches or sex abuse of an adult is six years and libel, medical malpractice is two years and slander, assault or libel is two years. These numbers are not all set in stone and can depend on the case. For example, if a contract for a sale is involved, it’s a four year limit.

“If you’re caught, no matter when that happens, you should have to serve the time,” said Dana Munson of Minneapolis.

Larson says whether or not it’s a fair system is in the eye of the beholder.

“Recognizing we do have a presumption of innocence, not everyone who is being charged or sued is liable,” he said. “We do have to weigh both sides.”

State legislatures use a broad range of factors to decide the different limitations.

“A lot of policy goes into this in terms of what has been the offense, how egregious is it, how soon do we think the plaintiff should be able to understand what happened to them,” said Larson.

In 2013, Minnesota lawmakers made a very rare move. They got rid of the statute of limitations for survivors of child sex abuse for a window of three years, between May 2013 and May 2016. Legislators ultimately believed it would allow victims coming forward with cases of alleged abuse by priests to address what happened years ago.

Heather Brown

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