California governor Jerry Brown signed legislation today that ends statute of limitations on rape cases inspired in part by the numerous allegations against Bill Cosby.
The Los Angeles Times reports that the bill was introduced to the California state senate by State Sen. Connie Leyva (D-Chino) and “amends the penal code so that some sex crimes, including rape, forcible sodomy and molestation of a child, can be be prosecuted, regardless of how long ago the crime occurred.” Prior to this, the statute of limitations for rape in California was 10 years, unless new DNA evidence presented itself later on. The law also stated that sex crimes against minors must be prosecuted before the alleged victims turn 40.
The new law is intended to be in support for victims who are so often afraid or feel unable to report sexual assault and rape to authorities immediately after they occur. Successfully prosecuting rape cases and bringing the perpetrators to justice is rare; according to Reuters, the Department of Justice reports that only two in every 100 rapists are convicted of felonies and spend any time in jail.
The bill was met with little opposition, but some feared that doing away with the statute of limitations for sex crimes would unfairly target minorities and other populations who are already incarcerated at much higher rates than their white counterparts. Natasha Minsker, director of the ACLU of California Center for Advocacy and Policy said that the Cosby bill as well as others recently introduced allowed for “a pattern of higher and higher penalties for sex offenders, broader definitions of what is a sex crime, removing due process protections that apply in the trials of sex cases...making it easier to convict people with harsher consequences.”
Both sides make valid points but what seems clear is that it’s less about the law and more about the systems in place that affect both sides. Lifting the statute of limitations is one thing, but if minority communities and women of color don’t feel safe coming to the police in the first place to report their crimes, what good does that do anybody?
Still, this is a step in the right direction. In a statement, Senator Leyva said,
“Governor Jerry Brown’s signature of SB 813 tells every rape and sexual assault victim in California that they matter and that, regardless of when they are ready to come forward, they will always have an opportunity to seek justice in a court of law.
Rapists should never be able to evade legal consequences simply because an arbitrary time limit has expired.”
The new law will go into effect January 1, 2017.