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Statute of Limitations for Sexual Assault in Maine

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May 10, 2022

Statute of Limitations for Sexual Assault in Maine

Statute of Limitations for Sexual Assault in Maine

Sexual assault cases in Maine may proceed as criminal or civil cases depending on the circumstances.

In many criminal and civil cases, a statute of limitations applies. These are time limits placed on the filing of civil actions and criminal charges. They are imposed for two main reasons:

  1. To make the Maine justice system more efficient
  2. To prevent the spoliation of evidence: it is generally agreed that the further away from the date of the event that the case is filed, the higher the likelihood of evidence being destroyed, lost or spoiled in some sense.

Typically, if you file a civil lawsuit after the statute of limitations expires, your case will be dismissed. So, what are the time limits in sexual assault cases in Maine?

These matters can become complex as many cases unfortunately involve the abuse of children, for which the laws have been amended to make them fairer for child victims.

As criminal defense lawyers representing defendants in many sexual assault cases in the state, the statutes of limitations are often a relevant factor.

It helps to understand what limitations are in place for both the victims of sexual assault and the prosecutors.

What criminal statutes of limitations apply in Maine?

If the sexual assault is a criminal matter, there is a set length of time for which prosecution proceedings can be commenced (from the date of the alleged crime).

The following are the major series of limitations that apply to criminal cases in Maine:

  • For most felonies (Class A, B, or C crimes): six years
  • Murder, first or second-degree criminal homicide: no statute of limitation
  • Class A, B, or C crimes involving unlawful sexual contact or gross sexual assault: 20 years
  • Misdemeanors (Class D or E crimes): three years
  • Breaches of fiduciary obligations: within one year of discovering the crime up to a maximum of five years
  • Official misconduct by a public servant: within two years, with a maximum extension to five years
  • Crimes in which a child is a victim (incest, rape, or gross sexual assault if victim is under 16 years old): no statute of limitation

If the defendant is absent from the state, the statute of limitations is usually paused but there is a maximum of five years applied to that.

As you can see, Maine has no criminal statute of limitations for many sexual crimes, including:

Special provisions are also made within the criminal statutes for sexual abuse against children, a topic which is discussed in more detail below.

What civil statutes of limitations apply in Maine?

Sometimes, a civil case is filed against an alleged perpetrator of sexual assault as well as — or instead of — a criminal case.

In these cases, an alleged sexual abuse victim seeks financial compensation from the alleged abuser. This may include economic and non-economic damages, including compensation for pain and suffering.

Such a case may proceed if a criminal case cannot be filed against the alleged perpetrator or the prosecution fails to achieve a conviction in a criminal case and the victim then decides to file a civil lawsuit.

For most civil actions, like personal injury cases and property damage claims, the statute of limitations is six years. Typically, the clock starts ticking from the date that the incident took place or the harm was discovered.

Some civil lawsuits, therefore, do not have to be filed within a certain period of the event occurring but rather the date that the damage first became apparent.

In the case of sexual assault, the statute of limitations in Maine depends on the age of the alleged victim. Laws have been changed in recent years and these are covered in the next section.

Here are some common examples of standard statutes of limitations that apply to civil cases:

  • Injury to person: Typically, six years statute of limitations, unless based on assault, battery, or false imprisonment (which is two years).
  • Injury to personal property: Within six years, unless another limit is provided by law elsewhere.
  • Fraud: within six years of discovering the fraud.
  • Libel/slander: two years
  • Trespass: six years
  • Professional malpractice: depends on the type of professional (between four and 20 years)

Note that if there is an alleged sexual assault at the workplace, in addition to a civil or criminal case, a sexual harassment claim may be made under the state and federal employment laws. This generally involves the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and a complaint must be made within 300 days of the alleged assault or abuse.

Statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse in Maine

The Maine laws were updated recently to amend the statutes of limitations for sexual assault and sexual abuse cases.

It has been recognized across the U.S. that many victims experience sexual abuse during childhood. Many cases go unreported at the time and only become known years later when the victims speak out.

It could be decades before the victims are ready to speak out. A German study showed that the average age to report among a group of over 1,000 survivors of childhood sexual abuse was 52 years old.

High-profile cases involving some of America’s most trusted organizations have helped to propel this issue into the limelight and create the pressure for change.

In 2000, Maine had already eliminated the statute of limitations for civil sexual abuse lawsuits, meaning that any civil action based on a sexual act allegedly committed or engaged in with a minor has no time limit and can be commenced at any time.

However, that bill was not retroactive and only applied to new cases. Any cases that had already expired could not be revisited.

Legislation passed in October 2021 changed that, lifting the statute of limitations for all cases of childhood sexual abuse, whenever they took place.

This has opened the door for more historical sexual assault cases to pass through the Maine civil courts. Many civil cases involve either individuals or institutions like churches, schools, and camps that harbored alleged perpetrators and didn’t take action to stop the abuse.

There is also now a nationwide trend toward eliminating the statute of limitations for civil claims and criminal prosecutions involving childhood sexual abuse.

If you need assistance, contact the Maine Criminal Defense Group by calling 207-571-8146 and consult with one of our attorneys today.

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