California abolishes statute of limitations for rape, with eye on Cosby case

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 September, 2016, 10:31am
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 September, 2016, 8:30pm

California has ended its statute of limitations for rape cases after Governor Jerry Brown on Wednesday signed legislation filed in the wake of sexual assault allegations against comedian Bill Cosby.

Senate Bill 813, filed by Democratic State Senator Connie Leyva amends the penal code so that some sex crimes, including rape, forcible sodomy and molestation of a child, can be prosecuted, regardless of how long ago the crime occurred.

Levya lauded Brown’s decision, saying it told every rape and sexual assault victim in the state “that they matter.”

“It shows victims and survivors that California stands behind them, that we see rape as a serious crime, that victims can come forward and that justice now has no time limit,” she said.

The new law will affect only sex crimes that occur next year or later and offenses for which the statute of limitations has not expired by January 1.

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In California, the statute of limitations for rape is 10 years unless new DNA evidence emerges later. Sex crimes against minors must be prosecuted before the alleged victim turns 40.

No one knows how many additional prosecutions a longer deadline or the abolition of any time limit might bring. And several advocacy groups and associations argued the bill was among those that would disproportionately affect poor and minority defendants with little or no representation.

But supporters said the new law would help victims who are often reluctant to report the abuse to police until many years later. Rape and sexual assault is typically committed by someone they know, making it difficult to speak out, lawyers and advocates said. Many victims also often experience shame, fear and extreme anxiety and don’t come forward until they have the confidence or a support system later in life.

The legislation was signed as Cosby, who has said his relationships with his accusers were consensual, is facing trial in Pennsylvania on three felony counts of aggravated indecent assault.

But Betsy Butler, executive director of the California Women’s Law Centre, said advocates have been pushing for such legislation long before women spoke out against Cosby.

“It is exciting for victims, and it puts perpetrators on notice,” she said.