Many people may be surprised to learn that there’s a statute of limitations on rape in Washington state.
There’s currently a bill in the state Senate that would do away with the time limits on prosecution for the most serious rape and sexual assault offenses. It passed in the state House of Representatives last year.
A bill that makes life tougher for rapists may seem like an easy sell, but the issue is more complicated than it seems on the surface.
Still, the bill deserves a hearing with the state Law and Justice committee and a vote before the full Senate. Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, is currently holding it up, according to a story by Taylor McAvoy with the WNPA Olympia News Bureau. The story is online at www.southwhidbeyrecord.com
Currently, the law is somewhat complicated. Rape in the first and second degree can be prosecuted for up to 10 years if the crime is reported within a year; otherwise it’s three years. Sex crimes against children may be prosecuted up until the victim’s 30th birthday.
Pedersen argues murder is the only crime that should be without a statute of limitations because people deserve to go on with their lives, the story says.
That’s nonsense. Providing rapists with a sense of relief is not a good reason for keeping a statute of limitations.
But there are some legitimate arguments to be considered.
Prosecutors are concerned that eliminating the statute of limitations on these crimes would give victims unrealistic expectations about the possibility of a conviction when cases get harder and harder to prove as the years go by. Witnesses die, memories fade, evidence gets lost.
The rights of the accused should also be considered as it’s harder to defend against accusations of a crime that allegedly occurred many years prior.
On the other hand, DNA evidence can identify an unknown perpetrator years after a crime. It would be unjust for rapists to go unpunished because of a somewhat arbitrary time limit, especially when there’s very convincing evidence against them.
The Washington Association for Prosecuting Attorneys had opposed the elimination of statute of limitations on sex crimes for years but changed its stance, largely because of advances in DNA analysis and other technology.
There’s understandably a lot of emotion wrapped up in laws dealing with sex crimes, but elimination of the statute of limitations is an issue that needs to be calmly and logically considered by lawmakers in Olympia — not held up in committee by one senator.