At State Capitol, Push To Eliminate Statute of Limitations in Sex Crimes Cases Sparks Debate

March 12, 2018 10:37 PM

Several state lawmakers this session are trying to eliminate the statute of limitations on prosecuting sexual violence crimes.

Victims' advocates say the law currently is complex, making it difficult for people to know if criminal charges could result from reporting acts of criminal sexual conduct that happened years ago.

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The move comes with pushback from opponents who say the law is intended to preserve the rights of the accused.

RELATED: Former Brooklyn Park Teacher Charged with Criminal Sexual Conduct

The bill, introduced by State Rep. Ilhan Omar, DFL-Minneapolis, and State Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, includes both criminal sexual conduct and sex trafficking. Omar said she was inspired to write the legislation after speaking with victims who are just now speaking out about their experiences, years after the fact.

Pappas said the current culture has heightened awareness of the issue.

"This is often a crime that's a very hidden crime, that victims are so traumatized by the crime that they don't feel like they can talk about it or reveal it," Pappas said.

Caroline Palmer, who works with the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said she gets a lot of calls about whether a case that happened years ago can be prosecuted. The answer she gives people depends on what the statute of limitations said. She explained that in Minnesota, the laws are vastly different depending on when the alleged act took place.

"The statute of limitations is very complicated to follow," Palmer said. "And trauma has no timeline. A lot of victim survivors are not ready to report right when the incident happens."

Opponents of the bill say the rules are in place for a reason.

RELATED: Police Looking for Potential Victims After Former Apple Valley Teacher Accused of Sexual Abuse

"If we get rid of statute of limitations, my concerns are that the very evidence that could set somebody free and exonerate somebody of criminal sexual conduct would no longer be there," said Ryan Pacyga, a criminal defense attorney in Minneapolis.

Pacyga said he's represented people in sexual violence cases who turned out to be wrongly accused.

RELATED: DNA Evidence Leads to Charges in 1983 Murder

"Over time, those witnesses and that evidence can go away, which makes it difficult for someone accused of a crime to fairly and adequately defend themselves," Pacyga said.

 

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Kirsten Swanson

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