Defendant must try to prevent crime discovery for statute of limitations to toll

February 5, 2015

In dealing with an issue of first impression, the Indiana Supreme Court found a robbery charge should be dismissed because it was filed outside of the statute of limitations. The state argued the defendant had concealed evidence of the crime, thus tolling the five-year statute of limitations.

John Study was charged in August 2012 with multiple counts stemming from the robberies of four Boone County banks. At issue is the robbery charge relating to the robbery of a Key Bank on March 21, 2006. Study sought to have the count dismissed because it was outside the statute of limitations; the state relied upon the concealment-tolling provision to bring the charge.

“Here, the State argues that concealment of any evidence of guilt tolls the statute of limitations. The charging information alleges that concealment occurred when Study concealed his identity by wearing a mask, and concealed the getaway car, clothes worn during the crime, items taken from a victim, the weapon used, and evidence linking the robbery to other robberies,” Justice Steven David wrote. “None of these actions would serve to prevent law enforcement from discovering that a bank had been robbed. The State’s ability to investigate the crime and develop a case was not thwarted. Interpretation of the statute of limitations requires balancing the defendant’s interest in being timely prosecuted and the State’s interest in having sufficient time to investigate and build a case.”

“If concealment of guilt is all that is required to toll the statute of limitations, it is hard to imagine when the concealment-tolling provision would not apply. In almost every criminal case, the offender is going to attempt to conceal that they have committed the offense,” he continued.

David noted had the General Assembly disapproved of the courts’ approach, it has had plenty of time to alter the statutory language. And he also pointed out that since 1882, Indiana courts have continued to hold that concealment tolls the statute of limitations only when there is a positive act performed by the defendant that is calculated to prevent the discovery that a crime has been committed. Study’s attempts to conceal his guilt were not thwarting the progress of the police investigation.

The justices remanded for the trial court to vacate the robbery conviction and sentence. They affirmed his other convictions and noted his new sentence is 53.5 years. They also affirmed a $40,000 fine. The case is John O. Study v. State of Indiana, 06S04-1407-CR-461



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