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Police in Westfield, New Jersey have arrested Carlton Franklin, a 51-year-old man accused of raping and murdering Lena Triano. When police were unable to identify the suspect, the 1976 case was marked unsolved.
But a prosecutor recently came across the file while investigating another unsolved murder. He was able to match the preserved DNA evidence with Franklin, who had served 20 years in prison for kidnapping and robbery before being released in 1999.
Aside from the technological intrigue, this case is notable for its demonstration of a lesser known legal principle. Not all crimes are subject to a statute of limitations.
Carlton Franklin has been arrested for a crime he allegedly committed 36 years ago. One would think he could no longer be charged with the rape and murder of Lena Triano. One would be wrong -- at least with respect to the murder charge.
Most crimes are accompanied by a statute of limitations. They typically run between 1 and 20 years, with the length reflecting the severity of the crime. Statutes also vary from state to state.
Murder rarely, if ever, is accompanied by such a statute. Homicide is so severe that legislators have decided that there are no circumstance under which an individual should be able to go free. This is the case in New Jersey.
Rape and sexual assault, however, are typically limited. So while prosecutors can charge Carlton Franklin with the murder of Lena Triano, they probably won't be able to charge him with her rape. The state's statute of limitations for sex crimes is 5 years after a victim attains the age of 18.