It wasn’t too long ago that the forces of feminism and social justice were pulling their hair out over the sentence given Brock Turner and the fact that allegations against America’s most-hated dad, Bill Cosby, wouldn’t result in prosecution because the statute of limitations had run. This was a travesty. This had to be changed, they exclaimed in the online petitions favored by slacktivists.
Of course, this is all petty history, at the moment, because evil old white men in flyover land elected a “lying, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, ignorant, narcissistic, petulant con-man with small hands” as its 45th president, and when they can pull themselves out of their safe spaces, their time is spent taking to the streets in the hope that if they scream loud enough, the space-time continuum will change the outcome of the election.
Nonetheless, politicians who sought to curry favor with their constituencies, and had otherwise found themselves barren of opportunity to be simultaneously tough on crime and soft on social justice, pandered as fast as they could.
In the last two years, at least six states have extended or eliminated their statutes of limitations on sexual assaults. Activists are seeking similar changes in at least three others.
Surfacing in many of the efforts has been the specter of accusations against Mr. Cosby, an entertainer whose legacy had long been his pioneering work in comedy and on television, but who now has also become something of a stimulus for the reform of America’s laws on sexual assault.
The notion that eliminating statutes of limitations is a “reform” demonstrates the confluence of perspective and rhetoric. That the calls only apply to sexual assault, rather than robbery, gets neither mention nor thought. Deliberate blindness tends to do that to people.
“Cosby’s case has spurred a lot of change,” said Rebecca O’Connor, vice president for public policy at the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. “A lot of states saw the headlines coming out, and legislators had a lot of pressure coming on them to take a critical look at whether laws were limiting access to justice.”
Notice the use of “access to justice” in there? For the most part, A2J has been a mantra calling for the reduction in the cost of lawyers to accommodate the unwillingness of clients to pay for legal representation so they can afford their iPhones. That it’s being usurped here by RAINN, as if anyone was denied access to justice for the first ten, twenty years, is another data point in the use of rhetoric to confuse the thinking-challenged.
There are many defenders of strict statutes of limitation who opposed the changes that have been made. In California, under the old law, charges could not be brought unless the reported incident of rape had occurred within 10 years. Supporters said the different states’ limits encouraged timely reporting of crimes. Getting rid of them, they said, put defendants at a severe disadvantage, even risked putting innocent people in jail because of faulty memories and deteriorating evidence in old cases.
This, of course, is why statutes of limitations existed in the first place. They were the reform at a time when convicting innocent people was the problem to be solved. Remember those days? And there was even an organization called the Innocence Project that was widely admired for its work in getting innocent people off death row. Good times.
On the other side, experts say that women who have been sexually assaulted, especially many years ago, are reluctant to report it. Advocates say that the time limits prevent accusers from bringing criminal cases even when there is ample evidence, and that they should at least have a chance to test their cases in court.
“Experts” is one of the adorable facile words used to conceal advocates with credentials. “Journalists” is another, though most don’t realize it. But have women been denied their “chance to test their cases in court”? They had ten years, more in other jurisdictions, which is a very long time, to complain of their victimhood. The crux of the matter is that they failed to do so, which is where the excuse promoted by the “experts” comes into play, that they are “reluctant.”
“You tie it to the fact that you stayed silent because you were afraid,” said Charlotte Fox, who said Mr. Cosby sexually assaulted her in the 1970s and who is involved in efforts to change the statute of limitations in Washington, D.C.
Were they afraid? Perhaps. The truth or falsity of claims of emotional paralysis can’t be tested. No one knows what was in their heads except them, and they may not be honest with themselves, given that victimhood is all the rage these days. Today, they may feel “empowered” to be a “survivor,” becoming heroes within the community of similarly emotional women.
But none of this passes scrutiny under any rational legal doctrine. There neither is, nor was, any systemic impediment to alleging a crime at the time, or for a decade thereafter. They had all the access to “justice” they wanted, but chose not to avail themselves of it. They had feelings? So does everybody else. Feelings are not a substitute for rational doctrine. Rational doctrine isn’t secondary to whatever feeling anyone claiming victimhood might have, whether at the time or a generation later.
The statute of limitations exists for a clear reason, to provide a defendant with the opportunity to defend himself, to gather evidence, witnesses and challenge the accusation. Even a decade later, it’s impossible to proffer an alibi defense that you weren’t in Philly the night of the alleged sexual assault, but in Des Moines. Try getting the evidence from the airline, or the railroad, for a random date a decade ago, no less a generation ago. Even if you had a dozen witnesses to back you up, no one remembers what happened on an otherwise unremarkable June 7th 30 years ago. This is basic due process stuff, the ability to defend.
Most telling, however, is that these changes, designed to undermine due process for the lie of a chance to test their cases in court, apply only to allegations of crimes against women. Only sexual crimes. Somebody beat you to a pulp on the street, breaking 32 bones? Meh. But if in the process he touched a vagina, as opposed to stuck his finger into your eye socket, it changes everything.
But everything is different when it’s a sexual assault of a woman. Aren’t her feelings of whatever more important than fundamental due process? Of course they are. The law says so, and let’s be honest, you can’t explain why but you share her feelings anyway. After all, they’re just, you know, girls, and, well jeez, they’re too fragile to be expected to function like, gosh, human beings, and they have feelings. But then, better to change legal doctrine than be honest about the problem.