Since March 2013, many individuals -- including a DNA profile -- have been indicted in Cuyahoga County for alleged rapes that occurred approximately 20 years ago. These cases are a result of authoritiesfinally testing rape kits for DNA evidence after many years of sitting on the shelves. In most cases, the indictments were issued on the eve of the statute of limitations expiring. For more information on these cases, check out the Plain Dealer’s coverage on the rape kits.
What is a statute of limitations? A statute of limitations is a law that sets time limits on how long the state has to prosecute someone for an alleged criminal offense. A statute of limitations is incredibly important to the accused to ensure a fair trial. Witnesses move away, forget with time, or die. Evidence is not preserved, becomes unavailable, or is destroyed. A statute of limitations ensures that prosecutions are commenced timely and without unnecessary delay.
In Ohio, the statute of limitations for criminal offenses is codified at R.C. 2901.13. The statute of limitations begins to run when any offense is committed. An offense is committed when every element of the offense occurs. For example, an assault occurs once a person slaps another. In the case of an offense of which an element is a continuing course of conduct, the period of limitation does not begin to run until such course of conduct or the accused's accountability for it terminates, whichever occurs first. For example, in a fraud case where there is a continuing pattern of submitting false loan applications, the statute of limitations does not begin until the conduct stops or the accused terminates his/her participation in the conduct.
Ohio Revised Code 2901.13 defines specified time periods for beginning a prosecution. For a minor misdemeanors, e.g. disorderly conduct, speeding, marijuana possession, etc., the statute of limitations is 6 months. Meaning if the state does not initiate a court case during that time period, the state is forever barred from prosecution. For misdemeanors other than a minor misdemeanor, e.g. OVI, domestic violence, assault, menacing, etc., the statute of limitations is 2 years. For most felonies, e.g., drug trafficking, aggravated theft, weapons offenses, etc., the statute of limitations is 6 years. For felony offenses such as kidnapping, manslaughter, rape, sexual battery, arson, terrorism, robbery, burglary, etc., the statute of limitations is 20 years. There is, however, no period of limitation for the prosecution of aggravated murder and murder.