On August 23, 2000, a North Park man was beaten to within inches of his life. He was hospitalized but, sadly, died three days later. San Diego police responding to the scene firmly believed that three male suspects were guilty of the deadly assault, but had no evidence to support their case. As a result, the North Park man’s murder has remained unsolved for nearly 18 years. That is, however, until a recent forensic breakthrough allowed police to gather the evidence they needed to make an arrest. Earlier this month, those three suspects were placed under arrest on suspicion of murder.
Statute of Limitations in California
Most crimes in California are subject to a statute of limitations. A statute of limitations requires the state to bring criminal charges against a person within a specific period of time. If charges are not filed before the statute of limitations expires, they can never be brought. California imposes a statute of limitations for a few different reasons. These include:
- Encouraging the state to promptly investigate and prosecute all criminal matters
- Ensuring that a prosecution is based on the best possible evidence, which is likely to fade with time, and
- Protecting defendants from being prosecuted for criminal acts committed during a different part of their lives.
How is it possible, then, that police in San Diego were able to arrest three men suspected of murdering a North Park man nearly two decades ago? The answer is simple: there is no statute of limitations for murder (or other crimes punishable by death or life in prison) in California.
No Limit on Bringing Criminal Charges for Murder
Why is there no statute of limitations for the crime of murder? There are a few different rationales for not putting restraints on the state’s ability to investigate and prosecute the crime of murder.
Prosecutions Can Provide Closure
Murder can never be undone. Once a person’s life is taken, that’s the end of their story. Families who have members torn away from them unexpectedly will be forced to cope with that reality for the rest of their lives. Prosecuting the person responsible for a family member’s death is seen as one of the few ways to provide closure. As a result, the state is free to investigate a murder case without time restraints.
Advances in Technology
In 2000, police were unable to gather evidence to show that three suspects were physically present at the scene of the North Park murder. Today, however, advances in forensic technology allowed police to link the suspects to the murder. Since technology is always advancing, placing a limit on the amount of time police have to investigate a crime as serious as murder would not be in the interests of justice.
Revisiting Previously Closed Cases
What happens if someone is wrongfully convicted of murder and then, two decades later, evidence surfaces to show that they are innocent of the crime? If there was a statute of limitations for murder, the state would not be able to find, arrest, and try the actual criminal. However, since there is no time limit for bringing murder charges, the state is free to reopen and investigate a previously-closed case.
Difficulty Prosecuting Cold Cases
Cold cases can remain open for decades. When new evidence surfaces in a murder case, the state has the right to arrest, charge, and try a criminal suspect. However, prosecuting a cold case can prove to be quite difficult. While the state may have new evidence to support their case, old evidence may have been lost, forgotten, or become degraded over time. Witnesses to the crime may have forgotten what happened or may no longer be around.
An attorney representing a defendant charged with a decades-old murder will undoubtedly challenge the validity of any evidence and testimony offered by the state. In some cases, these challenges may prevent the state from successfully convicting a defendant for a murder that happened long ago. In these situations, defendants may be able to secure a plea or walk away without facing any penalties, at all.
San Diego Criminal Defense Attorneys
Most criminal matters must be resolved within a few years of the crime. However, this is not true for the crime of murder. The state has the right to investigate murder for as long as it takes to make an arrest.
Have you been arrested on suspicion of a crime that was committed years ago? Contact the San Diego Criminal Law Center for help. Our experienced attorneys will review your alleged crime, determine if the state has the authority to charge you with a crime, and fight to protect your future. Call today to schedule your free case evaluation and learn more.