Lieber Wants to End Time Limits on Sex Crimes

By Mike Zapler and Edwin Garcia
Palo Alto Daily News [California]
February 8, 2007

Sacramento - Most accused rapists and other serious sexual offenders can't be prosecuted in California if it's been 10 years since their crime. On Wednesday, Assemblywoman Sally Lieber, D-Mountain View, announced legislation to scrap that time limit, a nod to victims, she said, too traumatized to come forward earlier.

The bill could trigger an odd alliance between Lieber, a staunch liberal on most issues, and tough-on-crime Republicans in the Legislature. But its passage is far from certain: A similar measure stalled in the state Senate two years ago without so much as a vote.

Lieber's Assembly Bill 261 would eliminate the 10-year statute of limitations for the most serious sexual crimes: rape, sodomy, child molestation, oral copulation, continuous sexual abuse of a child, forcible acts of sexual penetration and fleeing the state to avoid prosecution for a sex offense.

"The current statute of limitations is not long enough for victims who may be too traumatized to come forward," Lieber said. "These are very serious crimes; they're second only to murder in terms of their seriousness. The impact on victims is profound and lifelong."

Lieber's bill would apply only to incidents that happen after the bill would take effect. During the height of the church sexual abuse scandals, the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003 struck down a California law that would have retroactively erased the statute of limitations on child molestation.

The court held that it was unfair to alter the statute of limitations in cases where it had already expired before the law was enacted.

California already allows the statute of limitations to be extended for serious sexual crimes when DNA evidence is located. But Lieber said the law is so riddled with other exceptions to the statute of limitations in sex cases that prosecutors have trouble deciding when it applies. She said her bill would remove that ambiguity.

Santa Clara County Assistant District Attorney David Tomkins said he'd personally be surprised if the Democrat-controlled Legislature adopted Lieber's idea. But "we're always in favor of new laws that make it easier to solve violent crimes," Tomkins said, "and I'm sure we'd be in favor of this."

Opponents argue that allowing cases 10 years old or more increases the likelihood of wrongful convictions.

The California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, the state's largest organization of criminal defense lawyers, vowed to fight the measure because of the "unfairness" in trying to prove innocence in old cases.


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