TIP: Get Legal Advice Before Turning Yourself In

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Sometimes you have a big decision to make and it's the kind of decision for which you really do need legal advice. This is sometimes expensive, but an attorney may be able to answer important questions for you. Such as—and I'm just throwing out an example here—"Let's say somebody committed statutory rape in Missouri about 20 years ago and wants to turn himself in because he thinks he can't be prosecuted because the statute of limitations has run. Would that person be right about the limitations thing?"

An attorney could look that up and say "Actually, no. That person would not be right, because under Missouri law the statute does not run until 30 years after the victim reaches the age of 18, and if force was involved there is no limitations period. If that hypothetical person were to turn himself in and the facts were as you hypothetically describe, that person would be prosecuted. Hypothetically. That'll be $500."

But this little drama never transpired in Donald Ingerson's case, and although he saved himself $500 (or whatever), he may well spend the rest of his life in jail. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch quoted county prosecutor Robert McCulloch as saying that Ingerson, a former high-school teacher, contacted his office "out of the blue" recently to say he had assaulted a 16-year-old female student in 1974 and a 15-year-old one in 1995. He was presumably prompted by guilt, but not by any recognition that he should pay for his crimes, because "McCulloch said Ingerson falsely believed the statute of limitations had run out in both cases."

It's possible he was thinking of the limitations period for civil actions in such cases, which probably has run based on the facts above. But whether he got it wrong or just didn't bother to look at all, bad call by Donald either way on the criminal charges. Actually, the statute may have run on the earlier crime but only if it was purely statutory (that is, it didn't involve force); otherwise, he can be prosecuted for both crimes, and it looks like that's the position the state is taking now.

It is true that the failure to get legal advice in this case is not a bad thing if it means that a predator has been caught (police say there could be other victims as well). I'm only suggesting that you, the reader, should get legal advice if you are considering turning yourself in for something, because unlike the person discussed here it will turn out that you are innocent. Or you had a good reason or had no choice, or were dropped on your head as a child, or whatever.

So don't be like Ingerson, who made his most recent bad decision without being fully informed. According to McCulloch, Ingerson drove into town to "discuss" the incidents with investigators, and appeared to have no clue that he might not be driving home again.

"His car is probably still out there in the parking lot," McCulloch said.