Martin & Kent, L.L.C. Martin & Kent, L.L.C.

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Should sex crimes have a limitation period in Illinois? (cont.)

When high profile allegations of sex crimes appear in the media, prosecutors often complain that their hands are tied and they cannot prosecute the alleged wrongdoing, because the statute of limitations has run, and crimes from that period can no longer be charged.

This then leads to an outcry in the legislature to change the laws to permit cases from years or even decades ago, to be prosecuted. And as much as people want to obtain the satisfaction of seeing crimes from long ago prosecuted and guilty parties brought to justice, there remains a problem.

All of the challenges that go into prosecuting an inflammatory topic like rape or child sexual abuse are only magnified by the passage of time.

Children who were sexually abused may be challenging witnesses when the events are contemporaneous; when the events are decades past, is it possible to reconstruct events accurately enough to be certain what they claim happened beyond a reasonable doubt?

Or is a jury left guessing and panicked at the mere thought of the allegation, and feels the need to find the person charged guilty, no matter the quality of the evidence?

In 2014, in Illinois the statute of limitations was removed on sex crimes against children if there is physical evidence, which likely means DNA samples are available or that a "mandatory reporter" failed to report the incident. These two factors somewhat ameliorate the difficulty of otherwise contemporaneously confirming the incident.

Another reaction to old sex crimes occurs when legislatures create temporary time limits for civil suits, which don't affect the limitations periods on old criminal cases, but they may bring forth new, more recent cases which may still be viable for prosecution.

Statutes of limitation require line drawing. There is a great deal of art to setting them "just right," and legislatures are often less than thoughtful when the words "child sex crimes" and reelection come together.

Source: Washingtonpost.com, "How Josh Duggar and Dennis Hastert could change the laws on sex crimes," Janell Ross, June 9, 2015

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