Criminal charges are often complex and require investigations that involve visiting crime scenes, talking with witnesses and reviewing police reports and other evidence collected by law enforcement. But what if that case is years old? Or decades old? In Washington State, many crimes resulting in death carry no statute of limitations, which means police may continue to search for those responsible for murder, arson causing death, homicide by abuse, vehicular homicide and other crimes for as long as the investigation is deemed worthwhile. For defendants, the passage of so much time can complicate their legal defense. In February 2019, King County sheriff's deputies arrested a man and a woman for the 1995 murder of an acquaintance, a 26-year-old man. His gold jewelry and money were missing when police found his body in a parked van. In 2003, a prison inmate gave information that the woman had confessed to robbing and killing the victim with the help of two accomplices. Police reopened the investigation and found bloody clothes in a ravine that matched an arrested man's DNA. They eventually gathered enough evidence to support criminal charges against the two suspects at large.
DNA evidence and other genetic tools have been of great aid to prosecutors in cold cases. In Snohomish County, investigators used a technique known as genetic genealogy to make an arrest in March 2019 for a 1987 double homicide. Despite such compelling results, prosecutors need more than genetic evidence to prove a defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. There still must be a plausible connection between the crime and the defendant's motive, opportunity and physical proximity. But the passage of time can be just as much a hindrance for lawyers building a defense.
Finding a potential witness who can support an alibi for a day 20 or 30 years ago is especially difficult, as is assembling documentary evidence to dispel prosecution witnesses' accounts. If you have been charged with a crime that occurred long ago, contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer who has successfully handled homicide cases. You may feel protected by the passage of time, but as these cases show, you could still be arrested, charged and convicted.
At Peale Law Firm in Seattle, we are committed to seeking justice and fair outcomes for clients charged with homicide and other serious crimes throughout Washington. If you are seeking a criminal defense for yourself or a loved one, call us at (206) 429-4777 or contact us online.