Archive for Tuesday, April 2, 2013

New law abolishes statute of limitations on rape

April 2, 2013


The five-year statute of limitations for prosecuting rape cases will be abolished under a bill signed into law Monday by Gov. Sam Brownback.

The law takes effect July 1, and also removes the statute of limitations for prosecution of aggravated criminal sodomy. Currently, Kansas is among 10 states that required rape cases to be prosecuted within five years.

The new law also allows for prosecution of a sexually violent crime within 10 years if the victim is at least 18 years old. For younger victims, prosecution would begin within one year of the date the suspect is identified through DNA testing, or within 10 years of the victim’s 18th birthday, whichever is later.

Attorney General Derek Schmidt, who backed the legislation this session, said technological advances in forensic science had increased law enforcement’s ability to prosecute cases with DNA material and that removing the statute of limitations would allow those cases to go forward “whenever sufficient evidence is available without an artificial time limit.”

Rape victims said the change in the law helps them with their healing after the crime.

Mel Townsend, a 24-year-old Topeka woman who attended the signing ceremony, said the new law means her case won’t lapse. She was an 18-year-old sophomore at Kansas University when she was raped. She said law enforcement hasn’t been able to find the suspect yet.

The Associated Press normally doesn’t identify victims of sexual assault but is identifying Townsend because she has been active in testifying in support of the change in the rape law and attended Monday’s bill signing.

“It’s such a relief,” Townsend said. “It will give you a little hope that justice is on the same page now.”

A recent cold case rape charge was also dropped last year because of the current statute of limitations.

Former Topeka woman Cindy Hillebrand, who also advocated for the new law, was raped in 1985 in Topeka. A Topeka man, Joe Jones, was wrongfully convicted in that case, but later exonerated. In 2012, DNA evidence identified a Kansas inmate, Joel Russell, as a suspect in the case. Russell, who is currently in a Kansas prison, was served an arrest warrant, but charges were dropped because the statute of limitations had expired. Hillebrand, who spoke to legislators at a hearing on the bill last month, said she was glad to hear her case might help other rape victims.

Brownback also signed a proclamation making April Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

In 2011, social service providers helped 4,047 sexual assault victims. During the same year, law enforcement arrested 259 people for 1,103 reported assaults, according to the nonprofit Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence.


kusp8 5 years, 2 months ago

...and they said Republicans and Democrats couldn't work together.

rbwaa 5 years, 2 months ago

finally, something worthwhile comes from kansas legislators

ebyrdstarr 5 years, 2 months ago

Except that this statute is largely redundant. There was already no statute of limitations for any rape case from roughly 1997 on that involved DNA. So most old cases that couldn't be solved until a DNA match was found were already covered by an extended statute of limitations.

All this statute really accomplishes is letting all other rape allegations, where there is no DNA or no need to identify an assailant because the victim knows him, fester or not even be raised until 10 years later or more. Defending against a charge like that becomes more difficult as more time goes by.

There are good reasons to have statutes of limitations. Since the DNA exception was already law, this law wasn't necessary.

SnakeFist 5 years, 2 months ago

I agree. If DNA is present then the SOL isn't an issue, and if DNA isn't present then it becomes increasingly difficult to defend against circumstantial evidence after long periods of time. In effect, the DA has forever to build his case, while the defendant has to try to find witnesses who may have forgotten or may even be dead. Clearly, there are due process issues involved.

jafs 5 years, 2 months ago

The prosecution has the burden of proof, and it gets harder for them to meet that over time as well, right?

SnakeFist 5 years, 2 months ago

Yes, but the DA can build his case over time. At the very least, he has a record to work from. In almost every case, the alleged rapist will only begin building his defense after he's been arrested - which, without an SOL, could be twenty, thirty, or more years after the incident - until then he may not have known he needed a defense. Does he remember where he was and who he was with that particular night, can he find them, are they still alive and otherwise able to testify? As many have said, SOLs exist for a reason.

ebyrdstarr 5 years, 2 months ago

Of course, but in the real world, that doesn't mean as much as we'd like to believe. An awful lot of prosecutors will prosecute a case with conflicting evidence or that comes down to he said/she said on the idea that a jury should decide. And with a jury, it's luck of the draw, frankly, whether you'll get a jury who holds the state to its burden of proof or decides to read the tea leaves of the defendant's behavior and decide his guilt or innocence on a hunch. Having heard from enough jurors post-verdict, I don't think many jurors realize they're doing it when they find a defendant guilty on something other than actual evidence.

I just don't trust prosecutors or jurors enough to be comfortable with the idea of no SOL on a crime as emotionally-charged as rape. Absent a recent DNA identification, there is no reason not to have an SOL.

jafs 5 years, 2 months ago

Having served on a jury, I know that the system doesn't work anywhere near as well as it ought to, for a number of reasons.

But, I think that's something we should do something about, don't you?

ebyrdstarr 5 years, 2 months ago

I don't disagree with that at all, though I confess I don't have any great ideas on what to do.

But even then, I'd still say there should be a statute of limitations on rape.

jafs 5 years, 2 months ago

It's nice to agree on something :-)

But, I'm a little surprised that you wouldn't have any ideas on how to improve the system, given your experience with it and your obvious intelligence - I'd think you were ideally placed and suited to find improvements.

If the reason you like SOL on rape is because you don't trust jurors, I'd think you wouldn't need it if jurors actually did their job right.

ebyrdstarr 5 years, 2 months ago

Ok, yes, I do have some thoughts about how I would rewrite jury instructions. But how to stop humans from considering gut feelings and their pop psychology analysis of body language and behavior as proof beyond a reasonable doubt, I've no idea.

But even with perfect jurors, I would still oppose abandoning the SOL on rape for other reasons I and others have mentioned.

Shaun Hittle 5 years, 2 months ago

ebyrdstarr, Always appreciate your thoughts on these legal issues.

I spent some time thinking about when this new law would be applicable.

I get the points you make, but I guess the one other scenario when this would make a difference could be if someone is raped by someone who is identified by DNA, but at the time chooses not to go forward. Then, after five years, does. I suppose in that scenario, which I admit is probably rare, then the DNA law wouldn't have covered the case?

Shaun Hittle Reporter LJW

ebyrdstarr 5 years, 2 months ago

The problem I have with that scenario is that we don't usually allow the victims, even when victims of horrible crimes, to dictate the timing of the prosecution. I think it could even raise some constitutional speedy trial rights to delay prosecution of an identified suspect however long the complaining witness wants. Goodness knows I'd look into it for any client of mine.

somebodynew 5 years, 2 months ago

So the same Legislators that make it possible to prosecute the rapist no matter when, also refused to help the VICTIM if by chance she got pregnant by the rape. We will put the guy away (maybe), but you have to raise the child because you certainly can't get an abortion. After all "a woman's body has a way to shut that whole thing down", right ???

With this Legislative session this is not a surprise.

Clark Coan 5 years, 2 months ago

Memories are a funny thing and over time eyewitness and victim memories may become hazy to say the least. Unless there is clear DNA evidence, generally no one should be convicted on eyewitness or victim accounts.

kernal 5 years, 2 months ago

Yes, memories are a funny thing, but when something as traumatic as forceable rape occurs, most victims memories do not become "hazy", unless they were drunk or drugged at the time of the incident.

bearded_gnome 5 years, 2 months ago

So the same Legislators that make it possible to prosecute the rapist no matter when, also refused to help the VICTIM if by chance she got pregnant by the rape. We will put the guy away (maybe), but you have to raise the child because you certainly can't get an abortion. After all "a woman's body has a way to shut that whole thing down", right ???

---because the logic is: it is barbaric to kill the most innocent for the crime of another, killing the baby for th crime of the rapist is wrong. now, if you talked about say death penalty for habitual rapists, we could talk about a possible new law that would make sense but you liberals are all about giving rights to the rapists.

Charles L. Bloss, Jr. 5 years, 2 months ago

That is great for rape victims, and law enforcement. Good work !!

Centerville 5 years, 2 months ago

So abortion in the case of pregnancy in the course of a rape is now illegal in Kansas?

somebodynew 5 years, 2 months ago

My understanding of one of the laws being passed this session is that there is no exception for cases of rape. Basically while not entirely illegal in the State, they are trying to make it as impossible as they can.

Greg Cooper 5 years, 2 months ago

Unbelievable. Just, simply, unreallystupidlywomanhatinglybelievable.

Larry Sturm 5 years, 2 months ago

Even if they are raped they cannot have an abortion.

katykc 4 years, 11 months ago

As a victim who did not report, I can tell you this bill is empowering to victims. When you know your assailant, it is difficult to find the courage to call the police. I never found that courage to overpowermy shame and self blame. By the time I realized I couldn't just brush away the pain & anger, it was too late. I know exactly who it was and now I can go to the police armed with the knowledge that they can help me. I never thought it possible but recently one of his ex friends came to me and apologized for the incident saying what he did to you was wrong. I guess that means other people know and now I have some evidences other than my story.

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