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What is the statute of limitations for child sexual assault?

A grand jury report released Tuesday details widespread sexual abuse in six of Pennsylvania’s eight Roman Catholic dioceses, alleging more than 300 priests victimized more than 1,000 children over the past six decades, and that church officials took steps to conceal and protect abusive clergymen.

Several of the priests spent time in Cumberland County.

“Despite some institutional reform, individual leaders of the church have largely escaped public accountability,” the grand jury wrote in the roughly 900-page report. “Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all.”

While the report was just released to the public, there will likely be no legal action taken in many of incidents because the offenses occurred long enough ago that they now fall outside the statute of limitations in Pennsylvania.

Statute of limitations is the length of time from when an incident occurred to when legal action may begin. This can either be criminal, in which case a person can be arrested and charged, or civil, which involves the person who was harmed filing suit against the abuser.

In Pennsylvania, the criminal statute of limitation varies depending on what offense is alleged to have occurred.

For crimes like murder, manslaughter or vehicular homicide, there is no timeline. There is no limitation on the time between when the offense occurred and when the accused person is arrested, indicted or charged in those instances.

Major crimes like kidnapping, robbery, burglary and arson all have a five-year statute of limitation, meaning a person can be arrested or charged with one of those offenses up to five years after the offense occurred, according to state law.

All other offenses except certain sexual crimes have a two-year statute of limitation.

So, prosecution of a person accused of things like simple assault or DUI must begin within two years of the offense occurring, according to state law.

Major sexual offenses like rape, incest and aggravated indecent assault have their own category. For those crimes, the statute of limitation provided by state law is 12 years.

There are, however, exceptions to all of these categories, two of which are directly aimed at sexual offenses.

State law provides an exception for sexual crimes committed against children. In those cases, a person can be prosecuted until the victim turns 50 years old.

The statute of limitation can also be extended if DNA evidence becomes available and is used to “identify an otherwise unidentified individual as the perpetrator,” according to state law.

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Police and prosecutors have until the normal statute of limitations runs out or one year after the person has been identified through DNA, per state law.

Citing the investigation into child sexual abuse by Catholic priests, Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-Berks County, introduced a bill in 2017 that would eliminate the statute of limitations for child sexual assault. If his bill passes, a person could be prosecuted for child sexual assault regardless of how long ago the offense occurred.

Rozzi’s bill – House Bill 612 – is currently awaiting a vote by the House Judiciary Committee.

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Email Joshua Vaughn at jvaughn@cumberlink.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Sentinel_Vaughn.