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Statute of limitations has a purpose


May 22, 2013
No one reading the Reminder article about Lisa Foster's childhood sexual abuse could possibly fail to be moved by her story and her efforts. But eliminating the statute of limitations is a bad idea. There is an old legal maxim "Hard cases make bad law."

Those who don't study history and the law fail to appreciate the purpose of statutes of limitations, which has nothing to do with the seriousness of the crime itself. The purpose is to protect an accused who may be innocent from wrongful prosecution after all witnesses have died or moved away, and memories get cloudy. This is not true for just childhood sexual abuse cases, but for other major crimes as well. After 20, 25, 30 years, witnesses memories aren't the same. Evidence gets lost or discarded. The "truth" becomes more akin to a belief than a fact. In most cases, the accused is now quite old, with a fading memory of their own, and other witnesses are dead or gone.

While I have the utmost sympathy personally for Ms. Foster, every accused has a right to a fair trial, and is innocent until proven guilty. The ability to defend one's self is harmed – often irredeemably – by a 20, 25, 30 year delay in bringing an action. And that is why we have a statute of limitations. It is even more important in civil cases, where conviction requires only "a preponderance of the evidence" rather than the traditional criminal court requirement of "guilty beyond a reasonable doubt." Eliminating the statute would absolutely result in some number of innocent accused being convicted. The statute may not seem fair to Ms. Foster. But life is not fair, and not all wrongs can be righted, especially in court, especially after years have passed.

Pat Henry

East Longmeadow



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