What Is a Cold Case? And Can it Still Be Prosecuted?

What Is a Cold Case? And Can it Still Be Prosecuted?

In the U.S., various television dramas have popularized the criminal investigation of cold cases. These types of matters involve offenses that have not been solved and for which the investigator has exhausted all leads. However, it stays open in the event that new evidence is found that might help determine who the alleged offender was. Cold cases could be months or years old. If something is discovered that links a suspect to a crime, a prosecutor could pursue the matter.

But isn’t there a time limit on when a prosecutor can begin a case? Yes and no. Some offenses have set deadlines; others can be pursued at any time. And with recent advances in DNA technology, some states have reconsidered the limitations they place on starting the legal process for specific crimes.

DNA Analysis

Various human fibers, hair follicles, skin cells, and other types of biological matter are made up of DNA. Except for twins, every person’s DNA is unique, and if crime labs are able to test a sample and compare it to that of others, they can implicate or exonerate a person suspected of committing an offense.

In the past, it was challenging for investigators and analysts to conduct a DNA analysis on biological evidence left at the scene of a crime. The methods and technology weren’t advanced enough to provide conclusive results on matter that was too small or contaminated in some way, such as by being mishandled or exposed to external elements.

However, crime labs can now test biological material that is naked to the human eye using methods such as:

  • Polymerase chain reaction
  • Short tandem repeat
  • Mitochondrial DNA
  • Y-chromosome

A new tool currently being developed by researchers at the University of California, Davis could allow analysts to work backward from proteins to determine a person’s DNA. This means even biological evidence that is many years old or extremely small could be tested.

After an analysis produces DNA results, that information is compared to what the investigator has as part of their file or to data in the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), which contains DNA information of thousands of convicted offenders.

Statute of Limitations

The statute of limitations places deadlines on when the prosecution of a crime can commence. These laws are in place to protect people’s constitutional right to a fair trial. If a criminal matter is pursued years after an alleged offense took place, the evidence could have been degraded – DNA could have been contaminated, or a witness could have trouble remember events that took place – and the suspected individual could be convicted based on weak arguments.

Under Florida Statute 775.15 the limitations for beginning prosecution for some offenses include, but are not limited to:

  • Capital felonies: any time
  • First-degree felonies: 4 years
  • Any other felony: 3 years
  • First-degree misdemeanors: 2 years
  • Second-degree misdemeanors: 1 year
  • Felony that resulted in injury and a destructive device was used: 10 years
  • Felony of the abuse or neglect of an elderly person: 5 years
  • Felony insurance or workers’ compensation fraud: 5 years

However, because of advancements in DNA technology, states, such as Florida have extended the amount of time a prosecutor has to begin certain cases.

According to Florida Statute 775.15, if DNA evidence identifies a suspect, prosecution can begin within 1 year of the discovery for the following offenses:

Prosecution can start at any time after DNA evidence links a person to a crime for the following:

Reach Out to Law Office of Armando J. Hernandez, P.A. Today

If you were charged with a criminal offense, our attorney is prepared to thoroughly review your case and challenge it if prosecution has begun after the statute of limitations has passed.

Schedule your free consultation by calling us at (305) 400-0074 or contacting us online.

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