Gov. Jerry Brown has signed a bill eliminating California’s 10-year time limit for prosecutors to file rape and child molestation charges.
Beginning next year, the bill will end the statute of limitations in certain rape and child molestation cases.
Natasha Minsker, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Sacramento office, said state law already allowed for extending the statute of limitation in cases where DNA evidence became available. She said she worries prosecutors will pursue cases based on a witness’ memory in a decades-old case.
“We know memories change over time,” Minsker said. “That’s how people are wrongfully convicted.”
The bill is believed to be inspired by allegations against comedian Bill Cosby, after most of his accusers came forward long after the alleged sexual assaults took place. Bill Cosby has repeatedly denied the sexual assault and rape allegations.
In June, Colorado doubled the amount of time sexual assault victims have to seek charges from 10 to 20 years, a decision also prompted by the Cosby allegations. Nevada extended its time limit from four to 20 years last year after testimony by one of Cosby’s accusers.
Advocates say victims may need years before they can bring themselves to make an allegation to law enforcement.
The new law, SB813, will not, however, help women who made allegations against Bill Cosby dating back more than 10 years, including some from the 1960s.
Cosby’s trial is set to begin in June 2017.
Defense lawyer Angela Agrusa has said Cosby’s accusers have stirred passions even though their stories of abuse have not been investigated by police.
Civil rights groups and public defenders countered that extending the time limit could lead to false convictions as evidence disappears and memories fade among victims and witnesses. They say it’s not fair to expect a suspect to recall an alibi decades later.
It could even be counterproductive, California Public Defenders Association representative Carolyn George argued, because the time limit encourages victims to come forward and investigators to move quickly.
Opponents of the bill, warned that the change threatens a justice system that ensures that people accused of crimes have the ability to defend themselves.
The professors, including Ty Alper, associate dean at the UC Berkeley School of Law, wrote that eliminating the statute of limitations could lead to wrongful convictions or slow the prosecution of sex crimes by removing an incentive for law enforcement and prosecutors to act quickly.
Criminal statutes of limitations date back to colonial times, the professors wrote, to ensure people accused of crimes have the ability to mount a defense by collecting evidence and finding alibis.
SB 813, Leyva. Sex offenses: statute of limitations.
Existing law generally requires that the prosecution of a felony sex offense be commenced within 10 years after the commission of the offense. Under existing law, prosecution for the crimes of rape, sodomy, lewd or lascivious acts, continuous sexual abuse of a child, oral copulation, and sexual penetration, if committed against a victim who was under 18 years of age, may be commenced at any time prior to the victim’s 40th birthday. Existing law allows prosecution of an offense punishable by death or by imprisonment for life or for life without the possibility of parole, or for the embezzlement of public money, to be commenced at any time.
This bill would allow the prosecution of rape, sodomy, lewd or lascivious acts, continuous sexual abuse of a child, oral copulation, and sexual penetration, that are committed under certain circumstances, as specified, to be commenced at any time. The bill would apply to these crimes committed after January 1, 2017, and to crimes for which the statute of limitations that was in effect prior to January 1, 2017, has not run as of January 1, 2017.
On the same day same day that SB813 goes into law the innocence bill also is signed by Governor Brown.
New bill makes it easier for the wrongfully convicted to prove their innocence.
This innocence bill, authored by Democratic Senator Mark Leno and Republican Senator Joel Anderson, makes it easier for wrongfully convicted people in California to use new evidence to prove their innocence.
For far too long, Californians convicted and imprisoned for crimes they did not commit have struggled, and most often failed, to prove their innocence because the standard of proof, “points unerringly to innocence,” was so hard to meet.
SB 1134 enacts a standard of proof that innocent people, with strong new evidence of innocence, can meet. Under the new law, wrongfully convicted individuals must prove that, had the new evidence been available at the original trial, they more likely than not would have been acquitted of the crime. This standard is comparable to standards in 43 other states and is still difficult to meet, but is fair.
The bill received unanimous bipartisan support in both the Senate and Assembly. Legislators on both sides of the aisle recognize the injustice of wrongful convictions and the immeasurable harm to innocent people when their freedom is taken away. This new law gives innocent people in California a better chance to regain their freedom and gives a fallible system a better chance to remedy mistakes.
“For many years California has been the most difficult place in the United States to bring a new evidence claim on behalf of innocent clients,” noted Professor Justin Brooks, Director of the California Innocence Project (CIP) at California Western School of Law. “Finally, we have a standard where the courts can reverse a conviction based on new evidence that would have led to an acquittal had it been introduced at trial. This law makes sense, has bi-partisan support, is consistent with the new evidence standards across the United States, and will save taxpayers the cost of housing innocent people in prison.”