Why the Statute of Limitations Protects Hastert

By Eric Zorn
Chicago Tribune
June 8, 2015

Several people have asked me why the state can't pursue sex abuse charges against former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert if, as has been widely reported/insinuated/alleged, he had sexual contact with students in the 1970s when he was a teacher and coach at Yorkville High School.

Why do we have statutes of limitations that, in effect, wipe the slate clean on most offenses after several years have elapsed? Why should we reward those not lucky enough to get caught near the time of their offense?

I addressed this issue in a 1999 column, the bulk of which went like this:

When I hear the words "statute of limitations," I think of a skeleton in a closet disintegrating slowly, year by year, until at last it is a formless pile of dust.

I think of the maxim, "Time heals all wounds," and of the moral and practical notion that the person you are today is not the same person you were, oh, say, 21 years ago. I think of pages torn from a calendar serving as a greater and greater counterweight to culpability.

This is the sense in which most of us use the expression informally--for instance, in talking about violations of marital vows or allegations of past abuse of legal and illegal substances among certain Republican presidential hopefuls and committee chairmen, as well as certain prominent Democrats. "That was a long time ago," we say when we're in the mood to be fair. "The pain caused has faded, the damage repaired."








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