Part of the point of bringing someone before Congress is that they're forced to tell the truth or risk perjury charges. However, the charges only seem to apply if Congress can quickly dig up proof of a lie. Otherwise, if the perjurer makes it five years without his lie being discovered, it's like the crime was never committed.

The 'Committee Classified' documents that the Democrats released a day or two ago seem to contain evidence of Kavanaugh perjuring himself before Congress at least five times, all more than five years ago.

What is the justification for the statute of limitations being set at five years from commission, and are crimes beyond the statute of limitations able to be presented as background in cases of future wrongdoing?

  • This, it seems tome, is not a question about what the law is, but about why it is as it is, nor is is properly a question about legislative intent. Accordingly I think it off-topic here. Rather it belongs on the politics stack. Sep 28, 2019 at 23:10
  • 2
    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because ir belongs on politics.stackexchange.com as a question about why the law is as it is. Sep 28, 2019 at 23:11
  • @DavidSiegel It's been a year, so my memory may be fuzzy, but I believe that I did post it on Politics and they sent it over here.
    – Carduus
    Sep 30, 2019 at 12:55

2 Answers 2


If I steal your car, then everyone knows that a crime was committed. If I lie before congress, nobody knows (in cases where the statute applies), but it would be very, very good if the world knew. I think it is more important for the country to find out about the lies, than to punish the liar.

If I manage to lie and keep it secret for five years, it's unlikely that I will ever be caught, so the statute of limitation isn't much help to me. On the other hand, the statute of limitation may help the truth to come out.

So in my opinion the statute of limitations isn't likely to keep many people out of jail, but may help important truths to become public. Which would be good reason for the five years.


In the US, the Speedy Trial Clause and the Due Process Clauses require some limit on the time the accused has to wait for trial. A statute of limitations statutorily encodes what is a reasonable delay (if SCOTUS thinks that 5 years is too long a time, they can so rule and Congress will have to change the law). The practical rationale for limiting the delay on trying a person is that after 30 years, memory of the details surrounding an event are likely to be very unreliable, so that witnesses on both sides are of limited value. In addition, the limit motivates law enforcement to investigate the problem in a timely manner.

The federal law, in the general (noncapital) case, is that the limit for all crimes is 5 years, There are various longer limitations, including none for capital offenses. Criminal contempt has a shorter limit of one year, and otherwise 5 years is the shortest period for criminal prosecution at the federal level. The reason why perjury has a 5 year limit is that it is not one of the specific more serious offenses and it is not criminal contempt. The limit in 1948 was 3 years, and was increased to 5 years in 1954. You could look for records of congressional debate to see why they increased that from the original limit (1 Stat 119) of 2 years for non-capital offenses.

You could make a political argument for a longer or shorter limit, on Politics SE: the point is that no limit could cause constitutional problems, and nitpicking over 2 vs. 5 is strictly political.

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