Stogner v. California

539 U.S. 607
Brief Filed: 2/18/03
Court: Supreme Court of the United States
Year of Decision: 2003

Read the full-text amicus brief (PDF, 306KB)


This case involves the validity of a California statute that retroactively expanded the statute of limitations for certain sex offenses (i.e., the rape and molestation of children by adults)

Index Topic

Child sexual abuse


In 1994, the California legislature adopted a special statute of limitations for certain child sexual abuse crimes, allowing charges to be brought within one year following a report to a law enforcement agency by a person of any age that he or she was the victim of sexual abuse while a minor. One justification for the special statute of limitations was that many children delay reporting sexual abuse until they are adults, after the standard statute of limitations has run. Another justification is that child molesters often pose a risk for a substantial period of time, justifying delayed prosecution of their offenses. The legislation was worded to apply retroactively — that is, to cases for which the standard statute of limitations had already run at the time the new statute was enacted. The legislature was clear that it wanted all victims to have their "day in court." It is the application of the statute to these sorts of cases that is at issue in this case. Stogner, the petitioner, has two sons who were both charged with molestation. During the state's investigation of one of the sons, Stogner's daughters reported that their father subjected them to years of sexual abuse when they were less than 14 years old. The grand jury found probable cause to charge Stogner with molestation of both daughters. Although Stogner is not asking the Court to find that he is innocent, he contends that this statute violates the Ex Post Facto law and due process because there was a time when this prosecution would have been barred by the statute of limitations. The U.S. Supreme Court is considering whether it is constitutional to revive this criminal cause of action for child sexual abuse after the statute of limitations has run. APA (along with the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children and its state affiliate and the National Association of Counsel for Children) was asked to participate as an amicus to address whether the state's justifications for the special statute of limitations are accurate.

APA's Position

APA submitted a brief in support of the State of California to demonstrate that the assumptions underlyng the California statute are supported by scientific evidence. The brief addresses numerous scientific studies providing 1) research showing that the vast majority of child sexual abuse victims never disclose their abuse to anyone until they are adults; 2) research showing that sexual abuse frequently has harmful long-term consequences often lasting into adulthood; and 3) research showing that child molesters often remain a threat to children through most of their adult lives as there is a high rate of recidivism among those who sexually abuse children.


The U.S. Supreme Court in a 5-4 ruling held 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 Court stated that reviving criminal charges precluded by the statute of limitations or increasing the penalty for a crime after the crime is committed are the very that ex post facto laws were meant to include. The ruling applies only to offenders who were already protected from prosecution by the expiration of a three-year statute of limitations — a limit that has since been lifted. While the Court did not uphold California's law allowing prosecution of child molesters who previously could invoke the statute of limitations as a defense, the decision was a narrow one. Research was relied on in an extensive dissent supporting the position that many children delay reporting sexual abuse until they are adults.