Wednesday, April 3, 2013

New law abolishes statute of limitations on rape

The Lawrence Journal-World

The five-year statute of limitations for prosecuting rape cases will be abolished under a bill signed into law Monday by Gov. Sam Brownback.

The law takes effect July 1, and also removes the statute of limitations for prosecution of aggravated criminal sodomy. Currently, Kansas is among 10 states that required rape cases to be prosecuted within five years.

The new law also allows for prosecution of a sexually violent crime within 10 years if the victim is at least 18 years old.

For younger victims, prosecution would begin within one year of the date the suspect is identified through DNA testing, or within 10 years of the victim’s 18th birthday, whichever is later.

Attorney General Derek Schmidt, who backed the legislation this session, said technological advances in forensic science had increased law enforcement’s ability to prosecute cases with DNA material and that removing the statute of limitations would allow those cases to go forward “whenever sufficient evidence is available without an artificial time limit.”

Rape victims said the change in the law helps them with their healing after the crime.

Mel Townsend, a 24-year-old Topeka woman who attended the signing ceremony, said the new law means her case won’t lapse.

She was an 18-year-old sophomore at Kansas University when she was raped. She said law enforcement hasn’t been able to find the suspect yet.

The Associated Press normally doesn’t identify victims of sexual assault but is identifying Townsend because she has been active in testifying in support of the change in the rape law and attended Monday’s bill signing.

“It’s such a relief,” Townsend said. “It will give you a little hope that justice is on the same page now.”

A recent cold case rape charge was also dropped last year because of the current statute of limitations.

Former Topeka woman Cindy Hillebrand, who also advocated for the new law, was raped in 1985 in Topeka. A Topeka man, Joe Jones, was wrongfully convicted in that case, but later exonerated. In 2012, DNA evidence identified a Kansas inmate, Joel Russell, as a suspect in the case.

Russell, who is currently in a Kansas prison, was served an arrest warrant, but charges were dropped because the statute of limitations had expired. Hillebrand, who spoke to legislators at a hearing on the bill last month, said she was glad to hear her case might help other rape victims.

Brownback also signed a proclamation making April Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

In 2011, social service providers helped 4,047 sexual assault victims.

During the same year, law enforcement arrested 259 people for 1,103 reported assaults, according to the nonprofit Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence.