In January 2019, congressional representatives in Washington State decided to consider whether to remove the statute of limitations for prosecuting certain sex crimes, in recognition of victims' propensities for delayed recollection and reporting of attacks. Washington currently gives prosecutors 10 years to pursue criminal charges if an adult victim reports a sexual assault within a year of its occurrence. When the crime is not reported within the first year, however, the prosecution is only given three years to bring the case. If the victim is under 18 years of age when the assault occurs, the crime can be prosecuted up until he or she turns 30. Representative Dan Griffey (R-Allyn), who has often spoken publicly about the sexual assault committed against his wife when she was a minor, has advocated ending time limits for prosecuting felony sex crimes. Griffey took up the cause when his wife learned she could not hold her abuser criminally accountable for his actions because too much time had passed. The rationale for extending or eliminating time constraints for prosecuting sexual abuse is that victims very often delay disclosing their trauma.
Explanations for the delay include self-denial, minimization, disbelief, dissociation, low self-esteem, history of sexual violation, shame, fear of consequences and feelings of hopelessness or helplessness. In the case of a victim who was a minor, the very memory of the event may be so embedded in the subconscious that it emerges, if at all, only after years of therapy. While Griffey has found some support for his proposals, they have failed to pass in the House or Senate on several occasions. Some legislators have opposed the bills on the basis that people could be penalized too harshly for crimes committed when they were juveniles Criminal defense attorneys have vehemently opposed ending the statute of limitations, arguing that evidence can be lost and memories can be altered over time, making prosecutions suspect and handicapping the defense.
Legislators with opposing views have expressed eagerness to find a solution that would erase the time limit for reporting certain sex offenses while simply extending the statute of limitations for prosecution of others. One potential compromise would throw out the reporting time limit for victims aged 12 or under at the time of the offense and would increase the statute of limitations from 10 years to 20 years for older victims. If you or a loved one is accused of committing a sexual offense, it is imperative to secure the services of an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.
Peale Law Firm represents clients in the Seattle area and throughout the state of Washington. To learn more about how we can help, call us at (206) 429-4777 or contact us online.