NJ man gets sex assault conviction tossed over statute of limitations
New Jersey's Supreme Court has overturned a man’s sexual assault conviction because of DNA evidence — not because it exonerated him, but because the statute of limitations ran out before the state filed charges once it got a match.
Investigators had DNA evidence from the 2001 crime scene and from defendant Bradley Thompson by 2004 but didn’t get a conclusive match until 2016, due to the FBI’s updating of DNA testing guidance.
In a 5-0 ruling Thursday with one justice not participating, the Supreme Court held that the five-year statute of limitations should have begun in 2010, when the FBI standards changed and the state lab could have generated a match.
Thompson was indicted in 2017 and eventually convicted of criminal sexual contact and criminal trespass. The Camden County man was 15 years old at the time of the incident.
The state had argued that the statute of limitations should have begun in 2016, when it updated its policy to reflect the new FBI guidance and achieved a match with Thompson's DNA. Two lower courts had agreed. But the high court ruled that under New Jersey law, the statute of limitations began in this case in 2010 - when the state had the capability of matching the crime scene DNA with the defendant's.
If the legislature meant to have it start when a match was achieved, it would have written that into the law, the court ruled Thursday.
It is doubtful lawmakers envisioned a situation in which the state had both items “but that the DNA match would not occur given the systems in place to coordinate, maintain, and compare DNA samples both locally and nationally," Justice Fabiana Pierre-Louis wrote for the court.
C.J. Griffin, an attorney who submitted a brief to the court in support of Thompson, said the decision “is a win for fundamental fairness.”
“All the court did in this case was apply the plain text of the statute, which makes it clear the statute of limitations begins to run when the state has the evidence necessary to make the DNA match,” she said in an email.
A message seeking comment was left Thursday with the state attorney general's office.