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Gonzales v. County Court of Arapahoe

2020 COA 104. No. 19CA0393. Criminal Procedure—Child Abuse or Neglect—Statute of limitations—Continuing Offense—Failure to Report.

July 9, 2020

In April 2013, C.V., a middle school student, told another student that she had been in a sexual relationship with Vasquez, a male teacher, when she was 14. The allegation was disclosed to the school’s dean, but rather than report the abuse, the dean met with C.V. and asked her to reconsider her allegation given the consequences that it could have for Vasquez. The dean then took C.V. to meet with Gonzales, the school’s principal. Because of his position as principal, Gonzales was a mandatory reporter of suspected child abuse or neglect under CRS § 19-3-304(2)(l). Gonzales also questioned C.V., again stressing the consequences that her accusations would have for Vasquez. Ultimately, C.V. retracted her claim and Gonzales never reported C.V.’s sexual assault allegation.

In 2017, police interviewed Vasquez regarding allegations of sexual abuse pertaining to a different student. Vasquez confessed to sexually abusing numerous students, including C.V., starting in 2013. In January 2018, after a grand jury hearing, Gonzales was indicted on one count of failure to report child abuse. Gonzales moved to dismiss the indictment, asserting that his prosecution was initiated after the limitations period had expired in October 2014. The county court denied the motion, concluding that the General Assembly intended failure to report child abuse to be a continuing offense. The district court reversed.

On appeal, the county court contended that the district court erred by finding that Gonzales’s prosecution was barred by the applicable statute of limitations because failure to report constitutes a continuing offense. Statutes of limitation normally begin to run once a crime is complete, but some crimes are continuing offenses. A crime is deemed continuing when (1) the statute’s explicit language compels such a conclusion, or (2) the legislature intended the crime to be a continuing one, based on the nature of the crime involved. Because there is a tension between the purpose of a statute of limitations and the continuing offense doctrine, the doctrine should be applied in limited circumstances.

The General Assembly did not explicitly define failure to report as a continuing offense, and the statute is otherwise ambiguous as to whether failure to report is a continuing offense. Further, the legislative history does not speak to how long a mandatory reporter’s duty to report persists. The Court of Appeals division thus concluded that failure to report is not a continuing offense; the 18-month limitations period begins to run when a mandatory reporter willfully fails to make an immediate report after receiving information that provides reasonable cause to know or suspect that a child has been subjected to abuse or neglect. Here, the indictment occurred after the statute of limitations expired. Accordingly, the county court abused its discretion by ruling that the statute of limitations did not prevent Gonzales from being prosecuted.

The order was affirmed.

Official Colorado Court of Appeals proceedings can be found at the Colorado Court of Appeals website.

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