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The Statute of Limitations In Criminal Cases Regarding Sex Crimes Against Minors


People v. Quinto 2012 NY Slip Op 00851

New York Court of Appeals Decided on February 9, 2012 

 

Issue: What type of information qualifies as a report of a sex crime against a child that will trigger the commencement of the statute of limitations under CPL 30.10 (3) (f), or to state the issue another way – Whether the information that Jane disclosed to the police on November 8, 2002 was a “report” to the authorities that was sufficient to bar the availability of the tolling provision in CPL 30.10 (3) (f) in connection with the indictment against defendant.

Holding: The information Jane shared with the police in November 2002 did not activate the statutes of limitations under CPL 30.10 (3) (f) because she neither identified defendant as the perpetrator nor reported or revealed any of the sex offenses charged in the indictment. Under these facts, the statutes of limitations for the indicted sex crimes did not begin to run until Jane reached 18 years of age in January 2006. The charged sex offenses therefore are not time barred.

Legal Analysis: In New York class B felony sex offenses have no limitations period, all other felonies are covered by a five-year statute of limitations. A two-year window applies to misdemeanors and petty offenses must be prosecuted within one year.

The general rule is that the time period commences when a criminal offense is committed.

CPL 30.10 (3) (f). established that the statute of limitations in a prosecution of a sex offense (other than those that are not subject to any limitations period) committed against a minor does not begin to run “until the child has reached the age of eighteen or the offense is reported to a law enforcement agency or statewide central register of child abuse and maltreatment, whichever occurs earlier”. Although majority age replaced the commission of the crime date as the general starting point for the statute of limitations, a statutory exception starts the clock running sooner. The limitations period is triggered if “the offense is reported” to the police or to the central register for child abuse.

To begin, the text of CPL 30.10 (3) (f) compels us to reject defendant’s argument that Jane’s early statements to the police encompass all three of the time periods designated in the indictment. The statute specifically refers to a report of “the offense”. The only purported crime that Jane discussed with the police in November 2002 was an alleged August 2002 rape by a classmate. Jane did not mention any other sexual conduct occurring either before or after the alleged incident. As a result, the statutes of limitations did not commence on the initial disclosure date — November 8, 2002 — for any of the sex offenses within those two time frames. Rather, the limitations periods for those crimes began to run when Jane turned 18 years old in January 2006.

We next turn to the question of whether Jane’s disclosure to the police in November 2002 constituted a “report” requiring dismissal of the sex offenses occurring during the second time period identified in the indictment. CPL 30.10 does not define the word “reported” so we must apply its ordinary and natural meaning. “Report” is usually defined as describing or giving an account of something. As we have explained, the term “the offense” refers to a discrete criminal act or series of acts that satisfies the elements of a particular penal statute. Combining these definitions, the phrase “the offense is reported” as used in CPL 30.10 (3) (f) would mean a communication that, at a minimum, describes the offender’s criminal conduct and the particular harm that was inflicted on the victim. Information of this nature provides the police with actual notice that a specific criminal offense has occurred, allowing them to conduct a prompt investigation.

Considered in this manner, the information that Jane provided to the police in November 2002 certainly was a “report” but the operative question is, a report of what? The “report” provision triggering the five- and two-year statutes of limitations for sex offenses under CPL 30.10 (3) (f) would have applied only to the incident that was directly derived from the[*7]information obtained from Jane the manner, time and place that she was supposedly sexually assaulted. Since no information linked defendant to the circumstances of the reported crime, we hold that the People were entitled to apply CPL 30.10 (3) (f) and, contrary to the dissent’s conclusion, the statutes of limitations for the indicted sex offenses in the second charged time period did not commence until Jane became 18 years of age.

In our view, this meaning of the phrase “the offense is reported” is consistent with the legislative history and purpose of CPL 30.10 (3) (f). The statute was based on a societal acknowledgment that victims of childhood sexual abuse who do not (or, indeed, who cannot) disclose such acts while they are minors should be given a reasonable period of time after becoming adults to divulge the abuse they suffered. Based on the ordinary meaning of the terms used in CPL 30.10 (3) (f), the legislative history of the statute and its overarching purpose, it is clear that the drafters established the age of 18 as the operative date of the limitations periods unless the police or statewide abuse register receive earlier actual notice that a child has been sexually victimized. We therefore believe that the extension of the limitations periods for sex crimes against children under CPL 30.10 (3) (f) is best accomplished by recognizing that the reporting requirement should be interpreted to cover only the specific criminal acts that are disclosed in a communication. Consequently, we hold that the triggering “report” required under the statutory exception refers to a communication that, at a minimum, describes the offender’s alleged criminal conduct and the harm inflicted on the victim.

In sum, the information Jane shared with the police in November 2002 did not activate the statutes of limitations under CPL 30.10 (3) (f) because she neither identified defendant as the perpetrator nor reported or revealed any of the sex offenses charged in the indictment. Under these facts, the statutes of limitations for the indicted sex crimes did not begin to run until Jane reached 18 years of age in January 2006. The charged sex offenses therefore are not time barred.

Next, we address the timeliness of those charges and the applicability of another tolling provision — CPL 30.10 (4) (a) (ii) — which may apply to any crime subject to a limitations period. It excludes any periods of time following the commission of an offense if “the whereabouts of the defendant were continuously unknown and continuously unascertainable by the exercise of reasonable diligence.” We have explained that this statute covers cases where the police are unable to identify the perpetrator of a crime despite the exercise of reasonable diligence or have identified the perpetrator but cannot find him after a diligent investigation. Police knowledge that a crime was committed is a necessary prerequisite to the statute’s application. Subdivision (4) (a) (ii) therefore operates in a manner that is [*8] quite different than subdivision (3) (f) — it excludes time only if the police are aware of a particular crime, whereas subdivision (3) (f) stops the limitations clock if the police do not know that a child has been the victim of a sex offense.

Because the police did not learn about the non-sex crimes charged in the indictment until Jane revealed her allegations in December 2007, we conclude that CPL 30.10 (4) (a) (ii) did not toll the time between the alleged commission of the offenses and Jane’s disclosure. Consequently, the one- and two-year limitations periods that apply to the indictment’s non-sexual misdemeanors and petty offenses began to run when those crimes purportedly happened in 2002, hence the timeliness for prosecution of those crimes expired in 2003 and 2004, respectively, well before the accusatory instrument was issued in this case. We agree with the Appellate Division that the non-sexual misdemeanors and petty offenses must be dismissed.

Facts: The child at issue in this case, was 14 years old when she underwent a medical examination in November 2002 that revealed she was 12 weeks pregnant, at first; Jane denied that she had been sexually active. She later claimed that she had been raped in August 2002 at school by a classmate.

Jane eventually told the investigating police officers that she had consensual, unprotected intercourse with a 14-year-old boy. After she gave the police a written retraction of the rape accusation, the case was closed.

Jane turned 18 years of age in January 2006. Over a year later, when she was 19 years old, Jane informed the police that she had been sexually assaulted years earlier by her step-grandfather, defendant Santos Quinto. Defendant was charged in a felony complaint with rape and related offenses.

Jane subsequently testified before a grand jury that defendant had raped her on three different occasions in 2002 in the Brooklyn home where they resided: She also explained that she had kept the sexual assaults and pregnancy a secret from everyone because defendant warned her not to say anything and she was afraid of him.

Defendant was indicted for three counts of second-degree rape; one count of third-degree rape; three counts of sexual misconduct; three counts of endangering the welfare of a child; three counts of third-degree sexual abuse; one count of third-degree menacing; and three counts of second-degree harassment. He moved to dismiss the indictment in its entirety, contending that the statutes of limitations for all of the charged offenses had expired. Defendant asserted that the limitations periods began to run under CPL 30.10 (3) (f) when Jane informed the police in November 2002 that she had been raped by a classmate.

Supreme Court agreed with defendant and dismissed the indictment, concluding that Jane had “reported” the crimes to the police in November 2002.

The Appellate Division modified by reinstating the felony and misdemeanor sex offenses. The court determined that Jane had not made a “report” related to defendant’s alleged sex crimes in November 2002, which [*5] meant that the limitations periods for the sex offenses did not begin to run until Jane turned 18 in January 2006. With regard to the non-sex offenses, however, the Appellate Division ruled that they were barred because the statutes of limitations for those offenses had expired and the “continuously unknown and continuously unascertainable whereabouts” tolling provision in CPL 30.10 (4) (a) (ii) was not applicable under the facts presented.