Statute of Limitations on Rape: Why It Needs to Change

Rape unfortunately happens too often in America, with a sexual assault encounter happening every two minutes, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. Many victims of sexual assault do not report their assailant for a number of reasons, including the attack being outside the statute of limitations. In order to bring a rape charge against another individual, the act must meet the definition of rape, which can vary depending on the state. Depending on the state, some relationships may be defined differently, for example, rape between husband and wife and does not qualify under the definition of rape in some states, in addition to any acts not performed by between man and woman. Once the act meets the qualifications under state law, it must fall within the defined statute of limitations.


A statute of limitations time period is the time limit given by law under which a person has to file a legal claim. Depending on the claim, the victim or individual may only have a short window of time to file the claim without losing their chance to bring the claim in court. Additionally, the statute of limitations may start either from the time the crime or injury occurred, or when the victim may reasonably be aware of the injury. For instance, medical malpractice statute of limitations can vary depending on when the victim discovered the malpractice or reasonably could be put on notice; however, in criminal law, the limitations period is generally measured from the time the crime occurred and defines the time in which the prosecutor has to file charges.


In North Carolina, there is a three year time period in which to bring a claim for personal injury, property damage, as well as any claims under written or oral contracts, while a libel claim must be brought within one year of the incident. Since lawmakers have tried to be generous in the length of time given to bring a claim, if an individual misses the specified window of time, the court is not as forgiving and may decide to not hear the case at all. This was done so that both parties have the best chance at presenting adequate evidence and for contacting known and identifiable witnesses.


Under the statute of limitations, a charge of sexual assault must be made within a specific period of time, set out by the state. 17 states in the United States have a limitations period of between three years, ranging up to 10 years. Only five states have a limitations period that exceed 10 years, and in some cases goes up to 20 years. The remaining states do not have a statute of limitations in place regarding rape charges. North Carolina falls within the last category, eliminating their statute of limitations so that a victim may bring their charge on their own accord.


New California Legal Reform

Recently, a number of rape cases have come into the national headlines, from prestigious preparatory academies such as St. Paul’s in Connecticut where a senior male allegedly raped a freshman female as part of a ‘senior salute’ a ritual that senior males in the school would have sexual relations with a female, reportedly performed at the end of the school year. Outrage sparked again when Stanford sophomore Brock Turner was charged with rape after he allegedly sexually assaulted an unconscious female student behind a dumpster at a fraternity party, before he was spotted by ongoers. There has also been the ongoing legal battle as over 30 different women have stepped up to allege rape by former actor Bill Cosby.


As a result of these cases, in California alone, a state that had held a 10-year statute of limitations period for rape and sexual assault cases, Governor Jerry Brown recently ended this limitations period in order to allow victims such as those assaulted by Bill Cosby to come forward and bring their claims. Because the case was brought in California, a large majority of these women are not allowed to seek justice against their attacker due to the time frame in which the assault happened. Although the new legislation will only affect those rape and sexual assault cases going forward, from January 1, 2017 on, it has been a step in the right direction. While supporters of the amendment to the statute of limitations time period agree that predators are now not able to be protected by time limits for their crime, opponents are concerns about the potential impact it will have on the accused being able to defend themselves.


At the same time the changes discussed above were made, another bill was also signed by California’s governor, directly addressing the problem reported on so many college campuses: rape. The new bill gives a more broad definition to rape, now including any sexual assault and to include time in state prison. The Stanford case in which the male student allegedly raped an unconscious female student sparked a national debate because of the charges brought against the male student, being assault with intent to commit rape, penetration of an intoxicated person and penetration of an unconscious person. This new bill now classifies the male student’s activity as rape, a crime that judges now are not allowed to grant probation or parole for. These changes made to statute of limitations periods, minimum mandatory sentencing and expanding the definition of rape all further provide that judges, lawmakers, and police enforcement stand with the victims of these crimes and seek to give them their best chance at justice.

Call an Experienced Criminal Attorney Today

If you or someone you know has been the victim of a sexual assault, including rape, you are entitled to bring charges against your assailant and to be provided justice by our legal system. Please do not hesitate to call the skilled personal injury attorneys in Charlotte, NC at The Offices of Remington & Dixon, PLLC or get in touch using our live chat feature on our website or the messaging center. We will help you fight for what you deserve.


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While we offer a free consultation on traffic matters, criminal matters, and most professional license defense cases, we charge a fee for family law consultations to personalize our consultations to your specific needs. To learn about our fee structure, please get in touch.

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We recommend meeting with an attorney. While there is free legal help available for North Carolina residents from pro bono resources for civil matters, and public defenders for criminal cases, the best way to access tailored advice is to hire a lawyer.

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This is done on a case by case basis if you are involved in a family law, criminal, or professional disciplinary matter that involves another jurisdiction.



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