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Ten-year statute of limitations on rape ends in California

By
Allen Cone
Pamela Abeyta reacts during a news conference with three new alleged sexual assault victims of comedian Bill Cosby while attorney Gloria Allred comforts her in Los Angeles on September 30, 2015. A new California law ending the statue of limitations to prosecute rape allegations will not help the women in the Cosby case because it applies to rapes and sexual assaults committed after the legislation takes effect Jan. 1. File photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI
Pamela Abeyta reacts during a news conference with three new alleged sexual assault victims of comedian Bill Cosby while attorney Gloria Allred comforts her in Los Angeles on September 30, 2015. A new California law ending the statue of limitations to prosecute rape allegations will not help the women in the Cosby case because it applies to rapes and sexual assaults committed after the legislation takes effect Jan. 1. File photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo

SACRAMENTO, Sept. 29 (UPI) -- Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation that ends a 10-year statute of limitations on rape and child molestation charges.

Beginning next year, the law, SB813, will eliminate a time limit for certain rape and child molestation victims to pursue charges.

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The new law will only apply to crimes committed after the legislation takes effect Jan. 1.

That means women who made allegations against comedian Bill Cosby won't be helped by the new law. Cosby is facing one criminal case stemming form alleged sexual abuse and he has denied allegations by dozens of women nationwide.

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The state Senate and Assembly unanimously approved the bill last month and the governor signed it without comment Wednesday.

At least 16 other states have abolished the statute of limitations on rape, according to the California Women's Law Center.

California state Sen. Connie Leyva, D-Chino, said in a statement the new law "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. There must never be an expiration date on justice!"

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Attorney Gloria Allred, who represents women accusing Cosby, had sought to end the time limit.

"There is no statute of limitations on the devastating effects I have endured for two decades," said one of Cosby's accusers, "Casey," who joined her attorney, Allred, at a hearing in April at the state Capitol.

Christine Ward, executive director of Crime Victims Action Alliance in Sacramento, said the new law doesn't pressure victims to report crimes.

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"We think this will aid in allowing sexual assault survivors to come forward and report their crimes to police," Ward said to SFGate. "There are so many reasons a victim of sexual assault doesn't come forward at the time or soon after. This allows for justice to prevail."

But law professors, public defenders and the American Civil Liberties Union say this new law could lead to false convictions because memories of victims and witnesses could not be as clear as when the incident occurred.

"The statute of limitations on the prosecution of criminal charges has been a bedrock protection in our legal system since the founding of our nation — and for good reason," a group of 62 current and former criminal law professors wrote to the governor to ask him to veto the bill.

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"The statute of limitations is there for a reason,"Natasha Minsker, director of the ACLU of California Center for Advocacy and Policy, told the Los Angeles Times. "When a case is prosecuted literally decades after the event, it becomes much more ... difficult to prove that you are wrongfully accused."

The professors wrote that the change removes an incentive for law enforcement and prosecutors to handle cases quickly.

But San Bernardino County District Attorney Michael Ramos said the burden of proof needed for a conviction remains. "We still have to prove our case beyond a reasonable doubt in court — whether it happened a day or a year ago," Ramos, a co-sponsor of the bill, said in a report by the Los Angeles Times.

Brown also signed a bill that creates a new standard of proof for proving a wrongful conviction.

"SB 1134 ensures that when innocent people are convicted, there is a fair and reasonable path to clear their names if new evidence is later found to support their claims of innocence," said Democratic Sen. Mark Leno, a bill co-sponsor, in a release.

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