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The Paradox Created by Statute of Limitations Based on the Alleged Victim's Age

Posted by William Bly | Sep 28, 2019 | 0 Comments

A Winthrop man is being accused of gross sexual assault and sexual abuse of a minor for conduct that apparently happened years ago during his time working as a facilities director with the Bread of Life Ministries.

The case highlights an all-too-common paradox in these types of sex crimes: The possibility of going to trial over an issue that is designed to prevent cases like these from going to trial.

Religious Worker Accused of Sexually Abusing a Minor

On September 27, 2019, police arrested a facilities director for Bread of Life Ministries in Augusta, Maine. He is charged with a variety of sex crimes for alleged conduct that apparently happened years ago.

According to the alleged victim, she became “sexually involved” with the director when she was 14. She is now 21 and only made the allegations to police last year.

The defendant, now 47 years old, apparently told detectives that he met his accuser when she was only 12, but they didn't have sex until she was 18 years old. He was released on $20,000 bond.

The Complicated Statute of Limitations for Sex Assault Cases Involving Minors

Prosecutors have to press criminal charges before the statute of limitations expires.

In Maine, the criminal statute of limitations is found at 17-A Maine Statute §8. The general rule in that statute is that felony-level offenses – now crime classifications A, B, or C – have to be charged within six years, while misdemeanors – Class D or E crimes – have to be charged within three years of the alleged offense.

That's where things begin to get complicated, though.

Felony accusations of unlawful sexual contact or gross sexual assault have an extended period of time for criminal charges to be filed. Prosecutors have eight years to file these charges.

Unless, of course, the charge is only a felony-level offense because it has been enhanced by the defendant's prior criminal record under 17-A Maine Statute §1252(4-A). These still have to abide by the original six-year statute of limitations.

Those rules all get thrown out, though, if the alleged victim was under the age of 16 and the criminal charge is for any of the following:

  • Incest
  • Unlawful sexual contact
  • Sexual abuse of a minor
  • Rape
  • Gross sexual assault.

In these cases, there is no statute of limitations. Prosecutors can file these charges at any time.

The Paradox of Sex Crimes Involving Minors and the Statute of Limitations

The two main points of the statute of limitations are to urge alleged victims to go to the police early while evidence is still fresh and to allow potential defendants to repose in the certainty that they will not be charged once the statute has expired.

Where the age of the alleged victim sets the statute of limitations, though, a key fact of the case suddenly dictates whether the case can be filed at all. In this case, for example, the charges could go to trial over the question of when the sexual relations began. In some other cases, if the alleged victim is found to have actually been over 16 by the jury, it could mean that the charges could not have been filed at all… But the case still goes all the way to trial to find that out.

Criminal Defense in Maine at WTB Law

The criminal defense lawyers at WTB Law represent people in Portland, Saco, and Biddeford defend against allegations of sex offenses. Contact us online or call us at (207) 571-8146.

About the Author

William Bly

William T. Bly, Esq. is a graduate of Rutgers College where he majored in Political Science with a minor in U.S. History. Attorney Bly attended and graduated the University of Maine School of Law. During his time in law school, Attorney Bly focused on criminal defense.

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