A California state senator will introduce a bill to eliminate the statute of limitations in cases of rape and other sex crimes to afford survivors of assault a chance at seeking justice.
State Sen. Connie M. Leyva (D-Chino) said in a November 9 statement that the legislation would permit the indefinite criminal prosecution of rape, sodomy, lewd or lascivious acts, continuous sexual abuse of a child, oral copulation, and sexual penetration.
Leyva said she would introduce the bill when the state legislature reconvenes in January. It’s unclear if the bill will attract bipartisan support, but Democrats hold the majority in both chambers.
California law generally limits the prosecution of a felony sexual offense to ten years after the offense is committed, unless DNA evidence is found, which then offers a survivor additional time.
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“A sexual predator should not be able to evade legal consequences in California for no other reason than that the time limits set in state law have expired,” Leyva said in a statement.
The California Democrat’s proposal has already gained the support of the California Women’s Law Center and the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office. San Bernardino County District Attorney Michael A. Ramos said in a statement that advances in evidence gathering make legal time limits arbitrary.
“If evidence is discovered that may prove a suspect guilty of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt and prevent further crimes from occurring, simply put, victims should not be denied justice,” Ramos said.
National data indicates that rape and sexual assault are largely unreported and unpunished.
Nearly one in five women and one in 59 men have been raped in their lifetime, according to the latest data from the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One-third of cases of sexual assault and rape were reported to police in 2014, according to figures from the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Accounts conflict over the number of convicted rapists who end up behind bars, but a Department of Justice analysis puts the rate of felony convictions in rape cases tried during a one-year study period at 62 percent.
All but eight states apply a statute of limitations to the prosecution of felony sexual assault, according to a 2013 analysis by the National Center for Victims of Crime. Twenty-seven states afford survivors some form of a DNA exception that extends the time limit for prosecuting the crime.
Former Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis in 2014 suggested removing the state’s statute of limitations for sexual assault cases. She told reporters the crimes should be treated on the “same level as other heinous crimes such as murder and manslaughter and human trafficking, which have no statute of limitations.”
Advocates say survivors of sex crimes often need years to muster the courage to come forward, and justice can be tardy. They point to cases like the sexual assault of Texas sixth-grader Lavinia Masters who, as CNN reported, endured a 20-year wait before a rape kit test yielded results. The suspect could not be prosecuted because the statute of limitations had run out.
Of late, dozens of accusers who have publicly alleged they were drugged and raped by Bill Cosby have been denied their day in court because time has run out.