California ends statute of limitations on rape, but it won't apply retroactively


#1

Originally published at: http://boingboing.net/2016/09/29/california-ends-statute-of-lim.html


#2

I’ve always been puzzled over the statute of limitations for rape. I’m happy to see that this has been changed but i have mixed feelings on the non-retroactive part.

I’m a bit ignorant over what laws can be established on a federal level vs state level. Why isn’t the statute of limitations set on a federal level?


#3

States’ rights.

I’m going to look at this as a glass half full situation. The law works this way a lot: the new rules apply from here forward, not retroactively, and I can rationally understand why. So I’m going to focus on the fact that one state has recognized the problem with imposing a time limit on a violent crime as if it were a property crime, particularly due to the fact that it’s a crime which has a tendency to make the victims afraid to speak up when they’re most vulnerable.

Meanwhile…the limit in Minnesota is THREE YEARS? Holy shit.


#4

Yeah 3 years seems insanely short, i don’t understand the logic there.


#5

I don’t really see the logic in a statute of limitations on rape (or any personal offence) at all.

Financial stuff I can because the world needs to move on, but not for serious offences against the person.

In general I’m not in favour of retroactive application of legislation, particularly criminal offences, but seeing as this refers to what was already a crime at the time of its commission I don’t see a problem. Though I’m not a US constitutional law expert so there might be for all I know.


#6

Yeah, any retroactive changes are going to invite ex post facto challenges. It’s possible, as @robertmckenna notes, that it would survive a challenge, but, when you consider that somethings would have gone from prosecutable, to not, the back to being prosecutable, how that might raise constitutional issues. Probably better not to risk the challenges and get what you can get, safe from an obvious potential constitutional defect.

As to those questioning why have a statute of limitations at all for some crimes, it’s not about violent vs non-violent. I think you’ll find that it goes to ability to prove/disprove the accusation, and the fairness of that, as time goes on. Obviously if the ability to prove a thing deteriorates, that problem solves itself, because there ought to be no prosecution if there’s no clear ability to prove it (witnesses died, evidence deteriorated, etc). But it becomes a problem when it has a profound negative effect on the accused to defend themselves.

This obviously applies to any crime, and isn’t specific to rape. Even Murder, which has no specific statute of limitations, has various defense tactics to argue that charges should be thrown out due to inability to fairly defend against them.

And think about it. If you’re questioned about where you were on May 3rd, 2016 (this year), while you may not know offhand, you can likely, possibly with some assistance, reconstruct that information, possibly provably. If it’s May 3rd, 2013 (over three years ago), that’s a LOT harder, and in some cases impossible (though, perhaps for serious crimes, that may be still something that we decide it’s worth pursuing, with a heightened scrutiny and more accepting of “reasonable doubt”). Moving to something like May 3rd, 2006 (over 10 years ago), You likely have no idea, can’t prove anything, and, are at a serious disadvantage towards being able to make any factual assertion.

You can see how the passage of time makes it difficult for an innocent defendant to mount a defense. That’s just one example of one piece of evidence. Witness recollections fade, clothing and physical items that might be pertinent have been thrown out or lost, for entirely legitimate reasons.

It’s a major deal to accuse someone of a crime, and, doing so when they have been put in a position of inherit inability to defend themselves has some serious constitutional issues all by itself, in terms of giving them a fair trial. We balance that with the seriousness of the crimes, but, at some point, even the ad hoc introduction of additional assumptions of doubt at trial don’t compare with the bright line rule that a statute of limitations provides.


#7

Statutes are state laws. See the word “state” in there?


#8

Etymology is not the most productive way to argue law. I understand state rights, was just curious why statute of limitations can’t be set at a federal level considering how disproportionate the time limit is from state to state.


#9

It’s not an interstate commerce issue. The federal government simply doesn’t have the authority to harmonize SOLs because they relate to a state’s specific definition of a crime.


#10

The Founders were, too. It’s not Constitutional in the US:
Article 1, Section 9, Clause 3
Article 1, Section 10

The change will also apply to crimes for which the statute of limitations has not expired as of 1 January 2017.

I’m curious how this could be Constitutional. I know that sometimes the statute of limitations won’t apply until a certain triggering event (eg, someone has embezzled my funds, it triggers when I find out about it or when it becomes public?) But to change the statute of limitations for crimes already committed with a given limitation, it seems vaguely improper.


#11

what about the private prison industry?


#12

[quote=“renke, post:11, topic:86457”]
what about the private prison industry?[/quote]

What about them? SOL isn’t an interstate commerce issue. It doesn’t matter if you send people convicted of rape to a private prison.


#13

California with the the ended SOL has a much better business climate for private prisons than Minnesota with 3 years, clearly an interstate commerce issue. But anyway, my tongue-in-cheek comment did not work, the digression ends here.


#14

“We don’t care about rape (or, to be honest, women).”

It’s not something that i would really call logic, but legislators are less strict about such things.


#15

Every state is its own separate jurisdiction. When it comes to laws, it’s as though there are 51 states.


#16

Statutes of limitations exist so that the state can’t dangle the threat of prosecution over someone forever. It gives the state an incentive to prosecute the case early on, when evidence is fresh and memories are clearer. Imagine trying to prosecute a case where much of the physical evidence is gone and half the witnesses are dead.


#17

States are separate sovereigns and whatever the downside you might see of having a different federal and state standard for these things, double jeopardy doesn’t prevent a bad guy from being tried twice for the same crime by each of the state and the federal government.


#18

Unfortunately, these days being convicted of a sex offense means being permanently, irrevocably marked.

No matter what you do to atone, no matter how deep your remorse, you will be, forever, a special class of unperson.

You can murder a thousand people, and all the state will do is kill you. They won’t treat you as badly as we treat sex offenders.

And of course a teenager who sexts another teenager is guilty, and thus will be marked for life.

The whole system is broken. Just kill them, it’d be more merciful.


#19

Heh, yeah, that adds another aspect. I presume most people here are envisioning crimes that the government has no information on, or seriously lacking information on, till very advanced dates.

But if you take the case where the state does have the information, but can tactically choose not to act on it, that’s decidedly worse. The state can take steps to preserve that information, while letting exculpatory information decay and spoil through the natural course of time and events, to tilt a marginal case in their favor. This has obvious societal costs (a person they presumably view to be guilty is left to remain free for tactical purposes), as well as fair administration of justice issues as noted in previous posts.

All in all, the bottom line is, Statutes of limitations may not always feel so super good in specific cases, but, for the general system, are a necessity to prevent worse, systemic issues.


#20

Failure to prosecute in a timely manner, vexatious delays etc. are a quite separate issue from a crime being unprosecutable due to a statute of limitations. Delay is always an option for a judge to throw a case out of court. In Europe anyway and I would be shocked if not in the US.

As alluded to above (on phone sorry) any proaecution is going to be hugely more difficult after a long delay. But who hasn’t been happy to see some Nazi finally get some taste of justice even if it is in old age.