Michigan legislation addresses sex crimes, statute of limitations
Statutes of limitations on criminal prosecutions are a peculiarly American thing. In Great Britain, for instance, the time never expires for arresting and prosecuting a person for a crime he has committed.
Here, though, an offender can be off the hook if all he does is avoid prosecution long enough. In Michigan, the statute of limitations for most crimes is six years, 10 years for kidnapping and no limit on bringing murder or first-degree rape cases. Criminal sexual conduct with a minor is 10 years or when the victim turns 21 years old, whichever comes later.
There are reasons why criminal statutes of limitations are popular with state legislatures. Intertwining arguments, for instance, suggest that law enforcement agencies should focus on more recent crimes because those perpetrators are more imminently dangerous, whereas someone who last committed a crime a decade ago is essentially rehabilitated.
Further, bringing years-old cases to trial is difficult, costly and unpredictable because time erodes both evidence and memories. Civil rights activists argue that time particularly fades evidence of innocence, although legal authorities suggest it helps neither side in a criminal case.
Victims, reasonably, don’t care about the exigencies and efficiencies of putting a criminal case together for a jury. They prefer justice.
Michigan lawmakers appear ready to give it to them.
A bipartisan, 10-bill package of bills prompted by the Larry Nassar-Michigan State University sex abuse scandal would eliminate or lengthen the statute of limitations for second- and third-degree criminal sexual conduct.
The bills also would all but eliminate any time limits on suing in civil court. Instead of their 19th birthdays, survivors of sexual assaults minors would have until their 48th birthdays to file a lawsuit. Adult victims would have 30 years to pursue a civil claim.
The bills are expected to get quick approval in the Legislature.
Other bills in the package promise to better protect women and children from predators. Perhaps the most important provision would add college employees and youth sports coaches, trainers and volunteers to those required to report suspicions of abuse. It would also increase criminal penalties for those who look the other way.
If one thing is clear from the Nassar disaster it is that too many people knew for it to continue as long as it did. Those who knew, regardless of their role, should be held accountable.
Other provisions would eliminate any claim of governmental immunity for people and institutions and would remove any time limit for suing state agencies or employees that allow sexual assaults to happen. Perhaps they will protect the children next time and not the institution.