“Tell me,” he said, “about this legal concept called ‘statute of limitations.’ I am terribly curious.”
“Statute of limitations?”
“I … uh … just find it interesting, … yeah, I need to make a report on it.”
“It’s a legal term,” I said. “It’s a law, as I understand it, that forbids prosecutors from charging someone with a crime that was committed more than a specified number of years before.”
“A specified number of years?”
“How many years?”
“I think it depends.”
“The particular crime.”
“Oh.” We sat in silence for a few moments and enjoyed the view. Then he turned to me and said. “Why would they set a limit on prosecuting a crime?”
“Jeez,” I said. “I’m no legal scholar. But I suspect they may want prosecutions to begin in a timely manner while evidence is still available.”
“Well,” as with any aspect of public administration, funds are limited and perhaps they believe that suspects who live open, public, and so-called "reformed" lives, should be allowed to live free from the fear of capture.”
“So, it involves the concept of mercy?”
“I suppose so. Why are you asking me all this?”
“I, uh … no reason. Just interested.” He sipped his wine. “So all crimes sort of have an expiration date?”
“No,” I said. “Some enjoy no statute of limitations: murder, rape, treason, crimes against minors, those sorts of things. It varies, as I understand it, from state to state.”
He went silent. I said, “You seem awfully interested.”
He ignored me. “In other words,” he said, “some crimes have no forgiveness limitation?”
“Correct,” I said. “Say you are married and have a beautiful young daughter. Someone viciously attacks her and rapes her when she is 16. She becomes pregnant as a result.”
“That’s awful to contemplate,” he said.
“It certainly is,” I said. “The legal system forces her to raise the resulting child on her own. At what point would you assume the assailant committed no crime?”
He said nothing. I continued. “Maybe when your daughter turns 18? Maybe 20, 25, 30? Maybe the day she turns 40 and her daughter has a daughter of her own. You see the assailant walking the streets in the open, free and clear as of that date, maybe by now a successful member of society? Your own daughter has lived in poverty as a single mother and has never escaped the mental trauma the rape produced. On what date would you absolve him of the crime?”
“Mrs. Big Dope,” he said, obviously trying to divert the conversation, “being a highly intelligent and educated person, would understand all about this statute of limitations thing?”
I set my wine on a table and looked at him. “What did you do now?” I said.
He fidgeted. “Oh nothing,” he said. “I’m just trying to understand your species. That’s why I’m here, remember?”
“Spill,” I said.
“This murder thing, would it apply to plants? We regard them as living things on my planet.” Far away, on the western horizon, dark clouds began to form.
As I watched the clouds, I said, “My wife doesn’t necessarily operate, in terms of forgiveness, under a strict rule of law. Women sometimes remember things longer than men do. Legal statutes would be a lot different if they wrote them.”
He sighed. “Don’t I know it,” he said.