Why statutes of limitation?

Why statutes of limitation?

What is the purpose of statutes of limitations? I ask that in honesty, not in any ironic sense. Why do we place time limits on how long after a crime that civil or criminal charges can be pursued? The most obvious reason is that memories fade and the trail of evidence cools so that a proper defense becomes more difficult. But there are crimes for which there is no statute of limitations, such as murder, so the pursuit of justice in those cases evidently outweighs those concerns.

I ask this in the context of hearings in the Massachusetts legislature over lifting the criminal and civil statute of limitations on sexual abuse against children. Obviously the reason for this now is the massive publicity over the Scandal. And the Supreme Court has already ruled in a California case that a change in the statute cannot be applied retroactively and thus any law would only apply to future cases of abuse.

I guess the question at hand is whether, as a society, we think that child sexual abuse is as heinous as murder and requires a lifting of the limitations on prosecution. I think it would be helpful to understand why such limitations are there in the first place though.

Written by
Domenico Bettinelli