Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill that gets rid of the 10-year statute of limitations on rape (CA Penal Code 261) . The new law applies to rape and sexual assaults that take effect after the law is implemented on January 1, 2017.
Law professors, public defenders, and the American Civil Liberties Union are not happy about this new law. They believe that this change threatens a justice system that is meant for the accused to be able to defend themselves.
Eliminating the statute of limitations can lead to wrongful convictions or slow the prosecution of sex crimes by removing an incentive for law enforcement and prosecutors to act quickly. The criminal statute of limitations dates back to colonial times and ensures that people accused of crimes have the ability to properly defend themselves by collecting evidence and alibis.
The Director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Sacramento, Natasha Minsker, stated that the state law already allowed for extending the statute of limitations in cases where DNA evidence is readily available. She said she worries prosecutors will pursue cases based on witness' memory in a decades-old case. Memory changes over time and that is how people end up wrongfully convicted.
Allowing for a statute of limitations to be lifted on rape means that anyone can accuse someone of rape, decades after the act is committed. As more time passes, evidence becomes hard to collect and memories fade. Criminal convictions should always have a statute of limitations to prevent wrongful convictions from being made.