The government cannot retroactively erase statutes of limitations, the Supreme Court ruled today. The conclusion represents a defeat for prosecutors trying to pursue priests accused of sex abuse that took place many years ago.
The Associated Press reports that on a 5-4 vote, the justices struck down a California law that allowed prosecutions for old sex crimes. It was challenged by Marion Stogner, a 72-year-old man accused of molesting his daughters when they were children.
The case was closely watched because of sex abuse problems in the Roman Catholic church, but it also has implications for terrorism and other crimes.
Stogner is among hundreds of people convicted under a 1994 California law that changed the statute of limitations for some sex offenses. Critics argue that it’s unfair to change the rules after witnesses are dead and evidence lost.
Some states have extended their deadlines for filing charges in sex crimes, but California retroactively changed the time limit. Charges must be filed within one year after the victims file a police report.