Statute of limitations

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Statutes of limitations are written laws passed by a legislative body in common law systems to set the maximum time after an event when legal proceedings may be initiated.[1] When the period of time specified in a statute of limitations passes, a claim can no longer be filed. The intention of these laws is to facilitate resolution in a reasonable length of time.[2] In civil-law systems, similar provisions are typically part of the civil or criminal codes and known collectively as periods of prescription. The cause of action dictates the statute of limitations, which can be reduced (or extended) to ensure a fair trial.[3] When a statute of limitations expires in a criminal case, the court no longer has jurisdiction. Analysis of a statute of limitations includes the examination of any associated statute of repose, tolling provisions and exclusions.

Applications[edit]

Common-law legal systems use a statute specifying the length of time a claimant or prosecutor has to file a case. A case cannot begin after the period specified, and courts have no jurisdiction over cases filed after the statute of limitations has expired. Once filed, cases do not need to resolve within the period specified in the statute of limitations.

Purpose[edit]

The purpose and effect of statutes of limitations are to protect defendants. There are three reasons for their existence:

  • A plaintiff with a valid cause of action should pursue it with reasonable diligence.
  • A defendant might have lost evidence to disprove a stale claim.
  • A long-dormant claim has "more cruelty than justice" (Halsbury's Laws of England, 4th edition).

The limitation period generally begins when the plaintiff’s cause of action accrues, or they become aware of a previous injury (for example, occupational lung diseases such as asbestosis). In Classical Athens, a five-year statute of limitations was established for all cases except homicide and the prosecution of non-constitutional laws (which had no limitation). Demosthenes wrote that these statutes of limitations were adopted to control "sycophants" (professional accusers).[4]

Statute of repose[edit]

A statute of limitations is a type of statute of repose which may be extended for a variety of reasons (such as the minority of the victim). Other statutes of repose limit the time within which an action may be brought based upon when a particular event occurred (such as the completion of construction of a building or the purchase of manufactured goods), and often do not permit extensions.

If a person is electrocuted by a wiring defect which occurred during construction of a building, the builder is liable for damages if the suit is brought within a certain number of years after construction was completed. After that, any injury is considered due to the natural degradation of the structure or a lack of proper maintenance rather than the builder's actions. Statues of repose are sometimes controversial; manufacturers contend that they are necessary to avoid unfair litigation and encourage consumers to maintain their property, while consumer advocates argue that they reduce incentives to manufacture durable products and disproportionately affect the poor.

Tolling and the discovery rule[edit]

Many jurisdictions suspend, or toll, the limitation period under certain circumstances—for example, if the aggrieved party (plaintiff) is a minor or has filed a bankruptcy proceeding. In those instances, the running of limitations is tolled (paused) until the condition ends. Equitable tolling may also be applied if an individual may intimidate a plaintiff into not reporting or has been promised a suspended period.

The statute of limitations may begin when the harmful event (such as fraud or injury) occurs or when it is discovered. The Supreme Court of the United States has described the "standard rule" of when the time begins as "when the plaintiff has a complete and present cause of action", a rule in existence since the 1830s.[5] A "discovery rule" applies in other cases (including medical malpractice), or a similar effect may be applied through tolling. As discussed in Wolk v. Olson, the discovery rule does not apply to mass media such as newspapers and the Internet; the statute of limitations begins to run at the date of publication. In 2013 the Supreme Court of the United States ruled unanimously in Gabelli v. SEC that the discovery rule does not apply to U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission's investment-advisor-fraud lawsuits, since one purpose of the agency is to root out fraud.[6]

In private civil matters, the limitations period may generally be shortened or lengthened by agreement of the parties. Under the Uniform Commercial Code, the parties to a contract for sale of goods may reduce the limitations period to one year but not extend it.

Limitation periods known as laches may apply in situations of equity; a judge will not issue an injunction if the requesting party waited too long to ask for it. Such periods are subject to broad judicial discretion.

For U.S. military cases, the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) states that all charges except those facing court-martial on a capital charge have a five-year statute of limitations. In all UCMJ proceedings except those headed for general court-martial, if the charges are dropped there is a six-month window in which they can be reinstated. If six months have passed without reinstatement, the statute of limitations has run out.

Prescription[edit]

In civil-law countries, almost all lawsuits must be brought within a legally-determined period known as prescription. Under Italian[7] and Romanian law,[8] criminal trials must be ended within a time limit.

In criminal cases, the public prosecutor must lay charges within a time limit which varies by country and increases with the seriousness of the charge; in most jurisdictions, there is no statute of limitations for murder. Common triggers for suspending the prescription include a defendant's fugitive status or the commission of a new crime. A criminal may be convicted in absentia.[9] Prescription should not be confused with the need to prosecute within "a reasonable delay" as obligated by the European Court of Human Rights.

Exclusions[edit]

International crimes[edit]

Under international law, genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes are usually not subject to the statute of limitations as codified in a number of multilateral treaties. States ratifying the Convention on the Non-Applicability of Statutory Limitations to War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity agree to disallow limitations claims for these crimes. In Article 29 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes "shall not be subject to any statute of limitations".

United States[edit]

Fraud upon the court[edit]

In the United States, when an officer of the court is found to have fraudulently presented facts to court so that the court is impaired in the impartial performance of its legal task, the act, known as "fraud upon the court", is a crime deemed so severe and fundamentally opposed to the operation of justice it is not subject to any statute of limitation.

Officers of the court include: lawyers, judges, referees and those appointed; guardian ad litem, parenting time expeditors, mediators, rule 114 neutrals, evaluators, administrators, special appointees and any others whose influence are part of the judicial mechanism.

"Fraud upon the court" has been defined by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals to "embrace that species of fraud which does, or attempts to, defile the court itself, or is a fraud perpetrated by officers of the court so that the judicial machinery can not perform in the usual manner its impartial task of adjudging cases that are presented for adjudication".[10]

In Bulloch v. United States,[11] the court stated "Fraud upon the court is fraud which is directed to the judicial machinery itself and is not fraud between the parties or fraudulent documents, false statements or perjury.... It is where the court or a member is corrupted or influenced or influence is attempted or where the judge has not performed his judicial function—thus where the impartial functions of the court have been directly corrupted."

Heinous crimes in the United States[edit]

Crimes that are considered exceptionally heinous by society have no statute of limitations. As a rule, there is no statute of limitations for murder, especially capital or first-degree murder. However, judges have been known to throw out murder charges for cold cases if they feel the delay violates the defendant's right to a speedy trial.[12]

Continuing violations doctrine[edit]

In tort law, if a defendant commits a series of illegal acts against another person, or, in criminal law, if someone commits a continuing crime (like molesting a child over a long period of time, which can be charged as a single offense), the period of limitation may begin to run from the last act in the series. In the 8th Circuit case of Treanor v. MCI Telecommunications, Inc., the court explained that the continuing violations doctrine "tolls [i.e freezes] the statute of limitations in situations where a continuing pattern forms due to [illegal] acts occurring over a period of time, as long as at least one incident ... occurred within the limitations period."[13] In the United States, however, there has been doctrinal confusion in the courts regarding whether or not the continuing violations doctrine applies to particular violations. For example, the continuing violations doctrine has been ruled to apply to copyright infringement per Taylor v. Meirick 712 F.2d 1112, 1119 (7th Cir. 1983) but has been ruled not to apply per Stone v. Williams, 970 F.2d 1043, 1049–50 (2d Cir. 1992).[14]

Canada[edit]

For crimes other than summary (non-serious) offences, there is no statute of limitations in Canadian criminal law. Therefore, for indictable (serious) offences such as major theft, murder, kidnapping or sexual assault, a defendant can be charged at any future date.[15] In some cases, warrants have remained outstanding for more than 20 years.

In civil cases, limitations vary by province.[16] The province of Ontario introduced a new Limitations Act, the Limitations Act, 2002, on January 1, 2004.[17]

United Kingdom[edit]

Unlike other European countries, the UK has no statute of limitations applying to serious sexual crimes.[18]

Australia[edit]

Crimes against children and people under guardianship in Victoria, Australia[edit]

The Limitations Act of 1958 is a law in Australia that currently allows 12 years for child survivors and the disabled to make a claim, the age of 37 being the latest a claim can be made. Police submitted evidence[19] to a commission called the Victorian Inquiry into Church and Institutional Child Abuse, running since 2012, that indicated that it takes on average 24 years for a survivor of child sexual abuse to go to the police.[20] Attorney General Robert Clark says the government will remove statutes of limitations on criminal child abuse and survivors of violent crime should be given additional time as adults to deal with the police and legal processes in a manner that is manageable for them.[21] Organizations have been infiltrated by child rapists and individuals who offend against minors and the disabled that have used the statute of limitations to avoid detection and prosecution and have moved from state to state and country to country. Evidence was presented to the Victorian Inquiry detailing the misuse of the Limitations Act by the Christian Brothers in Victoria in particular.[22]

Some people [weasel words] have said that abolishing the statutes of limitations for civil claims, for minors and people under guardianship, would create a certainty that abuse of vulnerable people will be taken seriously by lawyers, police, organisations and governments. Someone [weasel words] has also advocated for penalties to be enforceable on organisations that have turned a blind eye to crimes in the past to safeguard the most vulnerable people in the community in the future. Peer support has been described as a powerful tool for survivors, SNAP Australia,[23] CLAN,[24] Broken Rites.[25][clarification needed] An institution called the Law Institute of Victoria[26] has advocated changes to the statute of limitations there.

India[edit]

The statute of limitations in India is defined by the Limitations Act, 1963[27]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Statute of Limitations". California Court Judicial Branch. Public Access Records. Retrieved 6 June 2014. 
  2. ^ California Courts, Judicial Council. "Public Access Records". California Courts. Rewriting Amendments. Retrieved 6 June 2014. 
  3. ^ Special Historic Session. "Opening Remarks:HistoricSpecial section" (PDF). http://www.courts.ca.gov/documents/compsum2.pdf. Supreme Court Of California. Retrieved 6 June 2014. 
  4. ^ Allen, Danielle S. (2003). The World of Prometheus: The Politics of Punishing in Democratic Athens. Princeton University Press. p. 154. ISBN 0-691-09489-6. 
  5. ^ Gabelli v. Securities and Exchange Commission.
  6. ^ Macy J. (2013). Opinion analysis: That which does not kill the SEC may make the agency stronger. SCOTUSblog.
  7. ^ "La prescrizione del reato dopo la ex-Cirielli". Diritto Penale. Retrieved 5 June 2013. 
  8. ^ "Codul Penal, Articolul 180 – Prescripția". Retrieved 9 October 2013. 
  9. ^ Ridley, Yvonne. "Bush Convicted of War Crimes in Absentia". www.foreignpolicyjournal.com. Foreign Policy Journal. Retrieved 12 October 2014. 
  10. ^ Kenner v. C.I.R., 387 F.3d 689 (1968); 7 Moore's Federal Practice, 2nd ed., p. 512, ¶ 60.23
  11. ^ Bulloch v. United States, 763 F.2d 1115, 1121 (10th Cir. 1985)
  12. ^ "Sixth Amendment - Limited Protection Against Accessive Prosecutorial Delay". Northwestern University School of Law. The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology. Retrieved 12 October 2014. 
  13. ^ http://www.ca8.uscourts.gov/opndir/00/01/991836P.pdf
  14. ^ http://gonzagalawreview.org/files/2011/02/Graham.pdf
  15. ^ "Criminal Procedure". thecanadianencyclopedia.ca. The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2 October 2014. 
  16. ^ "Limitation Periods in Canada's Provinces and Territories" (PDF). fenninsurance.com. Olga Gil Research Services. Retrieved 30 October 2008. 
  17. ^ "Limitations Act, 2002, S.O. 2002, c. 24, Sched. B". E-laws.gov.on.ca. Retrieved 2014-07-31. 
  18. ^ "Should Britain have a Statute of Limitations on sex crimes?". Theopinionsite.org. 2011-03-19. Retrieved 2014-07-31. 
  19. ^ "Parliamentary Inquiry On The Handling Of Child Abuse By Religious And Other Non-Government Organisations" (PDF). Parliament of Victoria. Retrieved 2014-07-31. 
  20. ^ "Parliament of Victoria". Inquiry Into The Handling of Child Abuse by Religious and Other Organizations. Retrieved 9 May 2013. 
  21. ^ "Victoria ends statutory time limit on historical child sex abuse cases". www.theaustralian.com.au. Australian Associated Press. Retrieved 12 October 2014. 
  22. ^ "Inquiry Into the Handling of Child Abuse by Religious and Other Organisations" (PDF). Parliament of Victoria. Retrieved 2014-07-31. 
  23. ^ "Waller Legal response" (PDF). Parliament of Victoria. Retrieved 2014-07-31. 
  24. ^ "A Submission by Care Leavers Australia Network (CLAN) to the Inquiry into the handling of child abuse by religious and other organisations" (PDF). Parliament of Victoria. Retrieved 2014-07-31. 
  25. ^ "Broken Rites response" (PDF). Parliament of Victoria. Retrieved 2014-07-31. 
  26. ^ "Inquiry Into the Processes by Which Religious and Other Non-government Organisations Respond to the Criminal Abuse of Children by Personnel Within Their Organisations" (PDF). Parliament of Victoria. Retrieved 2014-07-31. 
  27. ^ http://comtax.up.nic.in/Miscellaneous%20Act/limitation-act-1963.pdf