Opinion of the Court
Court once described statutes of limitations as creating "a presumption which renders proof unnecessary." Wood v. Carpenter, 101 U. S. 135, 139 (1879).
Consequently, to resurrect a prosecution after the relevant statute of limitations has expired is to eliminate a currently existing conclusive presumption forbidding prosecution, and thereby to permit conviction on a quantum of evidence where that quantum, at the time the new law is enacted, would have been legally insufficient. And, in that sense, the new law would "violate" previous evidence-related legal rules by authorizing the courts to " 'receiv[e] evidence . . . which the courts of justice would not [previously have] admit[ted]' " as sufficient proof of a crime, supra, at 612. Cf. Collins, 497 U. S., at 46 ("Subtle ex post facto violations are no more permissible than overt ones"); Cummings v. Missouri, 4 Wall. 277, 329 (1867) (The Ex Post Facto Clause "cannot be evaded by the form in which the power of the State is exerted"). Nonetheless, given Justice Chase's description of the second category, we need not explore the fourth category, or other categories, further.
Third, likely for the reasons just stated, numerous legislators, courts, and commentators have long believed it well settled that the Ex Post Facto Clause forbids resurrection of a time-barred prosecution. Such sentiments appear already to have been widespread when the Reconstruction Congress of 1867—the Congress that drafted the Fourteenth Amend-ment—rejected a bill that would have revived time-barred prosecutions for treason that various Congressmen wanted brought against Jefferson Davis and "his coconspirators," Cong. Globe, 39th Cong., 2d Sess., 279 (1866-1867) (comments of Rep. Lawrence). Radical Republicans such as Roscoe Conkling and Thaddeus Stevens, no friends of the South, opposed the bill because, in their minds, it proposed an "ex post facto law," id., at 68 (comments of Rep. Conkling), and threatened an injustice tantamount to "judicial murder," id., at 69 (comments of Rep. Stevens). In this instance, Con-Page: Index Previous 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 Next
Last modified: October 4, 2007