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Massachusetts’ 15-year statute of limitations has run out in the case of a 1991 rape, but that’s not stopping Hampden County District Attorney William Bennett from trying to prosecute it in a creative way. Thanks to DNA evidence, Antonio Sanchez was indicted in May 2006 for a 1991 rape three months after the statute of limitations for sex assault cases ran out. But Bennett has been arguing that charges against Sanchez are justified because he used an alias and had an arrest warrant, and therefore tried to conceal his whereabouts. The 15-year time limit set in the state statute of limitations can be suspended, or “tolled,” if a defendant was not a resident of Massachusetts at any point during that time. Bennett argues such tolling should apply to Sanchez because he was not “publicly” residing in the state. DNA lab investigated The Sanchez prosecution has run into other problems, such as the fact that the state’s DNA lab is under investigation because an administrator allegedly failed to report DNA results for a number of cases within the statute of limitations. But the case also shows that in the age of DNA evidence, prosecutors are employing novel means to work around statutes of limitations in order to pursue crimes that are years or even decades old. A growing number of states have expanded or lifted statutes of limitations for various crimes in recent years. Last year alone, seven states passed such bills, and at least three more are pending this year. As DNA continues to revive cases dating back decades, many officials said that jurisdictions will continue to respond by lifting time constraints that would otherwise prevent those crimes from being prosecuted. “The reasoning for a statute of limitations is legitimate,” Bennett said, “but in this particular set of circumstances, the true story is that DNA technology has allowed prosecutors to go forward on cases they would have not been able to go forward on before.” A Hampden County Superior Court judge ruled in November that the six-year statute of limitations on Sanchez’s assault and battery charges had expired, but set April 24 as the trial date for the rape charge. Sanchez’s lawyer, Charles Groce III, said the trial will likely be delayed until the statute of limitations issue is resolved. Both sides said they are not aware of any state court addressing the issue of whether using an alias tolls the statute of limitations. Groce said he may petition the state’s Supreme Judicial Court because it appears to be a case of first impression. “I don’t think the courts have really had a chance to sink their teeth into it,” said Groce of the Law Office of Charles Groce in Springfield, Mass. “Here we have a pretty novel thing . . . and what I think is happening is they are trying to circumvent the actual intent of the statute by focusing now on the alleged use of the alias.” Last year, statutes of limitations for some offenses involving DNA evidence were expanded in California, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas and Washington, according to DNA Resource, an online collaboration between Applied Biosystems, a Foster City, Calif.-based company whose research includes forensic identification, and Gordon Thomas Honeywell Governmental Affairs, which is affiliated with the Seattle-based law firm Gordon, Thomas, Honeywell, Malanca, Peterson & Daheim. Concealment issue This year, several states have proposed bills that aim to expand the statutes, including Arizona, New York and Tennessee. Generally speaking, prosecutors favor such bills, while defense attorneys are against them. James Kirby, executive director of the Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference, said he hopes the legislature will pass the pending bill, which would allow prosecution of certain sex crimes to start within the current period allowed under the statue or within one year after a suspect’s identity is established through DNA. “I think that’s a bill that makes a lot of sense because DNA is a relatively new scientific tool,” Kirby said. Kirby said he is not aware of anyone raising the alias issue before. More commonly, prosecutors argue that the concealment of a crime should toll the statute of limitations, he said. According to the President’s DNA Initiative � a five-year, $1 billion program that aims to improve the use of DNA in the criminal justice system common exceptions to the statute also occur when a suspect is a fugitive from the jurisdiction or when child victims are assaulted by family members.

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