Stogner v. California

LOCATION:United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

DOCKET NO.: 01-1757
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: State appellate court

CITATION: 539 US 607 (2003)
ARGUED: Mar 31, 2003
DECIDED: Jun 26, 2003

Irving L. Gornstein – On behalf of the United States, as amicus curiae, supporting the respondent
Janet Gaard – Sacramento, California, argued the cause for the respondent
Roberto Najera – Martinez, California, argued the cause for the petitioner
Special Assistant Attorney General – for respondent

Facts of the case

In 1993, California enacted a new criminal statute of limitations permitting prosecution for sex-related child abuse where the prior limitations period has expired if the prosecution is begun within one year of a victim’s report to police. In 1998, Marion Stogner was indicted for sex-related child abuse committed between 1955 and 1973. Without the new statute allowing revival of the State’s cause of action, California could not have prosecuted Stogner. Stogner moved to dismiss the complaint on the ground that the Ex Post Facto Clause forbids revival of a previously time-barred prosecution. The trial court agreed, but the California Court of Appeal reversed. The trial court denied Stogner’s subsequent dismissal motion, in which he argued that his prosecution violated the Ex Post Facto and Due Process Clauses. The Court of Appeal affirmed.


Does the Ex Post Facto Clause bar the application of California’s retroactive extension of the statutes of limitations for sexual offenses committed against minors?

Media for Stogner v. California

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – March 31, 2003 in Stogner v. California

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – June 26, 2003 in Stogner v. California

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in No. 01-1757 Stogner against California will be announced by Justice Breyer.

Stephen G. Breyer:

According to the State of California the Marion Stogner who is the petitioner committed acts of sex-related child abuse between the years 1955 and 1973.

By 1976, the three years after the last act, all the relevant statutes of limitation had expired.

So, at that point the law forbid any prosecution.

About 20 years later, in 1993 and 1996, they are two different statutes, California enacted new laws which in effect extended limitations periods almost indefinitely, and they also permitted a retroactive revival of a prosecution, one that would have originally been barred.

California then applied this new law to Stogner and in 1998, it brought a prosecution against him based upon the acts which he had allegedly committed between 43 and 25 years earlier.

Now, Stogner has argued that the Constitution’s Ex Post Facto Clause bars California’s effort retroactively to revive this long dead prosecution.

We conclude that Stogner is right and we hold that the statute is applied to his prosecution is unconstitutional.

Our conclusion rests upon three sets of considerations: first, we think that the statute threatens the kinds of harm that the Ex Post Facto Clauses seek to avoid.

Judge learned at hand once wrote that extending a limitations period after the State has “ensured” a man that he has become safe from its pursuit seems to most of us unfair and dishonest.

The Government has refused “to play” by its own rule. It has deprived the defendent of that fair warning that might have led him to preserve evidence.

In the words of Calder versus Bull, a very old but still a leading Supreme Court case in the Ex Post Facto area, the law before us is “manifestly unjust and oppressive”.

The second set of considerations is that statute falls literally within the terms of one of two descriptions of Ex Post Facto laws that Justice Chase provided nearly 200 years ago in Calder versus Bull.

This description refers to instances in which the British Parliament “inflicted punishments where the party was not by law liable to any punishment”, and we think that is what California’s Law does.

After the expiration of the statute, he was not liable by law to any punishment and California then passed a law which inflicted a punishment.

We recognized that Justice Chase also described this category of Ex Post Facto laws in a different way with the words “law that aggravates a crime or makes it greater than it was when committed”, but we find no inconsistency here for one can easily read the phrase law making a crime greater than it was when committed as including a law that inflicts punishment where when the law is passed the party is not liable to punishment.

And as so read the former words cover the case as well. Third, legislators, courts and commentators all have believed for more than a century that a law that like the present law revives a forbidden prosecution is an Ex Post Facto law.

With virtual unanimity, American Courts have said this and when necessary they have held it.

Outside of California, we have found no authority to the contrary.

We discuss these matters further in our opinion, we recognize that we are talking about a law, not a law that was extending the statute of limitations enacted before the statute expired here where one have a law that extends the statute of limitations enacted after the earlier stature has expired, and it is that latter case that we are considering, and we hold that this latter case, the laws are unconstitutional.

We also have in the opinion quite a lengthy discussion, I call it a discussion with the dissent which took a contrary view of a number of these matters.

The bottom line is that we hold California’s effor to prosecute Marion Stogner unconstitutional and we reverse the California Court’s decision to the contrary.

Justice Kennedy has filed a dissenting opinion which the Chief Justice, Justice Scalia and Justice Thomas have joined.