A blog of the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section

At least 16 states have no statute of limitations for rape cases in face of rape kit backlog, delays in reporting crimes

By , America Al Jazeerah, November 10, 2015

Click for entire report

A California lawmaker plans to introduce legislation that would eliminate the statute of limitations on rape and some sexual assault cases, joining a handful of other U.S. states that have made the same move.

State Sen. Connie M. Leyva, D-Chino, said Monday that when the new legislative session begins in January, she will propose scrapping the 10-year statute of limitations on rape cases. The proposed bill would also apply to sexual assault cases involving lewd or lascivious acts, child sexual abuse, oral sex and sexual penetration.

“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,” she said Monday in a press release. “Victims should have the opportunity to prove their accusations in a court of law, even if it is over a decade after the offense was committed.”

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State Senator Connie M. Leyva

The issue of expired statutes of limitations in sex crimes cases has been up for public debate in recent months after reports of allegations by more than a dozen women accusing comedian Bill Cosby of raping or sexually assaulting them. Many of the women’s cases date back to the 1970s and 1980s, meaning that the statute of limitations for criminal suits has expired, although the accusers can — and have — since filed civil suits against him. Cosby has denied the charges.

Earlier this year, Nevada raised its statute of limitations for rape to 20 years from four, in response to a campaign launched by Lise-Lotte Lublin, a Nevada resident who alleged that Cosby drugged and raped her in a Las Vegas hotel room in 1989.

Lublin filed a complaint against the comedian with Las Vegas police in 2014, but discovered that the statute of limitations for her case had expired. The updated law in the state, which took effect on Oct. 1, only applies to new rape cases and those that haven’t reached the state’s previous four-year limit.

More than 30 U.S. states and the District of Columbia have statutes of limitations of varying lengths on rape and sexual assault cases. In Minnesota it’s three years, but in Massachusetts, it’s 15, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (PDF). At least 16 states have no statute of limitations for rape cases at all, and others — including Ohio — are close to signing bills into law to expand them.

Recent reports of widespread delays in the processing of rape kits, the forensic exams performed on sexual assault victims to gather DNA evidence that can be matched to potential suspects, have also influenced the push to expand the statutes of limitation. An estimated 70,000 rape kits sit untested in evidence storage rooms across the country. Since processing one kit can cost up to $1,500, the backlog can be overwhelming in cash-strapped cities like Detroit.

With the kits waiting to be processed, the statute of limitations becomes more important. Some states do have laws that allow for extra time if new DNA evidence is uncovered. In California, the existing law allows the statute of limitations for rape to be extended if new DNA evidence is found.

The White House and the Manhattan District Attorney’s office committed a combined $79 million in funding in September to reduce the backlog of untested rape kits in 27 states. Advocates for rape survivors say the backlog has as much to do with funding as it does with societal skepticism and indifference toward women who allege sexual assault.

Perhaps as a result of such skepticism, only two in every 100 rapists are ever convicted of a felony, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

“The law should not make the criminal justice system more difficult for victims nor should it allow sexual predators the ability to escape justice,” San Bernardino County District Attorney Michael A. Ramos, who also supports the proposed legislation in California, told The Los Angeles Times.

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