Problems with Washington’s Statute of Limitations for Sex Crimes

statute-of-limitations-sex-crimes-washington-stateAccusations Don’t Require Corroborating Evidence, Even After 25+ Years

The Washington statute of limitations for most child sexual assault crimes is up to the victim’s 30th birthday.  It is conceivable that a person could be prosecuted for sexually assault of a child twenty five years after the alleged incident, as long as a criminal complaint is brought before the limitation expires.  I testified before the Washington legislature that extensions to the statute of limitations was poor policy.  Extended limitations gives undue hope to the victims, and places a defendant at an unfair disadvantage.  The integrity of the evidence, if any, after so long a period is likely to be eroded.  Clothing is lost, witnesses move or can’t be located, memory for details fade, etc.

Washington State has changed the statute of limitations several times, but has never dealt with the issue of evidence integrity.  This leaves a frightening prospect of a person being charged a quarter of a century later based only on the statement of the alleged victim.

Massachusetts dealt with this possibility in recently in Commonwealth v. White.  White was convicted of ‘Rape of a Child’, a crime similar to one existing in Washington.  The alleged victim (“S.F.”) was the defendant’s daughter who claimed abuse between the ages of four and six.  She testified the abuse started in 1979 and ended in 1981, when her parents separated.  S.F. never disclosed any sexual touching as a child, even upon fairly direct questioning by her mother.  The mother had suspicions something was happening, but never learned anything other than S.F. “had a secret” with her father.

An extended statute of limitations for sex crimes should require corroborating evidence.

Massachusetts no longer has any statute of limitations for child sex crimes!  The statute tries to deal with the problem of lost evidence by including the provision that any complaint filed more than 27 years after the offense must be supported by independent evidence.  S.F. gave a statement to police when she was 32 years old, 28 years after the alleged incidents.  The court held that S.F.’s mother and brother seeing her alone in her bedroom with her father (one time with the father’s head in her lap with her pants down) was not enough to be “corroboration”, particularly since they couldn’t tie what they saw to specific dates.  Mr. White’s conviction was overturned on appeal.  The corroboration requirement was critical, as it was apparent the jury believed S.F. even though there was no corroboration.

The concern for Washington’s statute of limitation laws is there usually is little in the way of corroborating evidence after just a few years.  It stretches the imagination that there would be sufficient independent evidence after two plus decades.  Massachusetts requires such evidence, but Washington does not.  Until the legislature in Washington is amended, it is quite possible for someone to be convicted merely upon the verbal complaint of an alleged victim.