Why Is There No Statute of Limitations for Murder in California?

by Ambrosio Rodriguez | May 04, 2018 | California Law

In the 1970s and 1980s, California was terrorized by a masked gunman known only as the “Golden State Killer.” Over a period of 12 years, the gunman reportedly killed 12 people, committed 45 rapes, and burglarized at least 120 homes. After all this time, it appears that the manhunt may be over. Last month, a 72-year-old former police officer who is believed to be the Golden State Killer was arrested in Sacramento.

The man is currently facing criminal charges for two counts of murder. The state is able to pursue these charges against him despite the fact that crimes were committed more than 30 years ago because there is no statute of limitations for murder in California.

What is a Statute of Limitations?

Most crimes in California are subject to a statute of limitations. This means that the state only has a limited amount of time after a crime is committed to make an arrest and press charges. One purpose of the statute of limitations is to encourage prompt investigations of crimes. Another purpose is to prevent people from being punished for acts that they committed years ago. These rationales do not apply when the crime in question is murder.

Why Is There No Statute of Limitations For Murder?

There are a few different justifications for not imposing a statute of limitations for crimes of murder.

1. Murder is one of the most serious crimes a person can commit.

Murder involves taking the life of another person. Murder victims will not come back to life and their families will be forced to live with the tragedy forever. The one thing that can be offered to these families is justice. If there were a statute of limitations for murder, many families may not be able to see their loved one’s killer answer for their crime.

2. Technology and forensics keep changing over time.

The technology we use to investigate crimes today was not available 30 years ago. Much of it was not even widely used 10 years ago. As technology and science advance, police gain new tools to help them track down criminals. A statute of limitations could prevent the state from catching and convicting a murderer with solid evidence, simply because that evidence could not be identified at the time the crime was committed.

3. Sometimes the wrong person is convicted.

There have been many documented cases where the wrong person is convicted of murder. Years later, new evidence comes to light and proves that this person is not guilty. Since there is no statute of limitations for murder, the state is not prohibited from using this evidence to identify the true offender and pursuing criminal charges.

4. Murder Investigations Can Take a Long Time

Murder can be a complicated crime. This is particularly true if the person committing the crimes is good at hiding their tracks and limiting evidence. Police may need years to gather enough evidence to make an arrest in a murder case, often having to wait until the suspect makes a mistake. If a statute of limitations existed, criminals would essentially be rewarded for being smart.

Drawbacks to Not Having a Statute of Limitations for Murder

While not having a statute of limitations can be great for the state and a victim’s family, it can pose a problem for suspected criminals. Evidence, witnesses, and recollections of a crime tend to get lost or forgotten over time. This can pose a problem when police mistakenly identify someone as a suspect in a crime that is 20 or 30 years old. While the state may have some evidence to support their case, what evidence still exists to prove that their suspect is really innocent? While not having a statute of limitations can help to catch criminals long after a crime has been committed, there is still room for error.

Are You Facing Murder Charges?

There is no statute of limitations for murder in California. The longer it takes for police to make an arrest, the more important it is to attack the validity of any evidence they may have. If you are facing charges for a murder that occurred years ago contact an attorney immediately. At the Rodriguez Law Group, our Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys will fight to protect you from the harsh consequences of a murder conviction.

To learn more, call our Los Angeles criminal defense law firm at 213-995-6767 or visit our contact us page to send us an email.