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Stogner v California

6-26-2003 California:

Stogner v California
539 U.S. 607 (2003)

California has brought a criminal prosecution after expiration of the time periods set forth in previously applicable statutes of limitations. California has done so under the authority of a new law that (1) permits resurrection of otherwise time-barred criminal prosecutions, and (2) was itself enacted after pre-existing limitations periods had expired. We conclude that the Constitution's Ex Post Facto Clause, Art. I, § 10, cl. 1, bars application of this new law to the present case.

In 1993, California enacted a new criminal statute of limitations governing sex-related child abuse crimes. The new statute permits prosecution for those crimes where "[t]he limitation period specified in [prior statutes of limitations] has expired"—provided that (1) a victim has reported an allegation of abuse to the police, (2) "there is independent evidence that clearly and convincingly corroborates the victim's allegation," and (3) the prosecution is begun within one year of the victim's report. 1993 Cal. Stats. ch. 390, § 1 (codified as amended at Cal. Penal Code Ann. § 803(g) (West Supp. 2003)). A related provision, added to the statute in 1996, makes clear that a prosecution satisfying these three conditions "shall revive any cause of action barred by [prior statutes of limitations]." 1996 Cal. Stats. ch. 130, § 1 (codified at Cal. Penal Code Ann. § 803(g)(3)(A) (West Supp. 2003)). The statute thus authorizes prosecution for criminal acts committed many years beforehand—and where the original limitations period has expired—as long as prosecution begins within a year of a victim's first complaint to the police.

In 1998, a California grand jury indicted Marion Stogner, the petitioner, charging him with sex-related child abuse committed decades earlier—between 1955 and 1973. Without the new statute allowing revival of the State's cause of action, California could not have prosecuted Stogner. The statute of limitations governing prosecutions at the time the crimes were allegedly committed had set forth a 3-year limitations period. And that period had run 22 years or more before the present prosecution was brought.

Stogner moved for the complaint's dismissal. He argued that the Federal Constitution's Ex Post Facto Clause, Art. I, § 10, cl. 1, forbids revival of a previously time-barred prosecution. The trial court agreed that such a revival is unconstitutional. But the California Court of Appeal reversed, citing a recent, contrary decision by the California Supreme Court, People v. Frazer,21 Cal.4th 737, 982 P.2d 180 (1999), cert. denied, 529 U.S. 1108 (2000). Stogner then moved to dismiss his indictment, arguing that his prosecution is unconstitutional under both the Ex Post Facto Clause and the Due Process Clause, Amdt. 14, § 1. The trial court denied Stogner's motion, and the Court of Appeal upheld that denial. Stogner v. Superior Court,93 Cal.App.4th 1229, 114 Cal.Rptr.2d 37 (2001). We granted certiorari to consider Stogner's constitutional claims. 537 U.S. 1043 (2002).

... ... ...

In sum, California's law subjects an individual such as Stogner to prosecution long after the State has, in effect, granted an amnesty, telling him that he is "at liberty to return to his country... and that from henceforth he may cease to preserve the proofs of his innocence," Wharton, Criminal Pleading and Practice § 316, at 210. See also Moore, 43 N. J. L., at 223-224. It retroactively withdraws a complete defense to prosecution after it has already attached, and it does so in a manner that allows the State to withdraw this defense at will and with respect to individuals already identified. See supra, at 611. "Unfair" seems to us a fair characterization.

The statute before us is unfairly retroactive as applied to Stogner. A long line of judicial authority supports characterization of this law as ex post facto. For the reasons stated, we believe the law falls within Justice Chase's second category of ex post facto laws.

We conclude that a law enacted after expiration of a previously applicable limitations period violates the Ex Post Facto Clause when it is applied to revive a previously time-barred prosecution. The California court's judgment to the contrary is Reversed.

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