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AG Madigan wants to lift statute of limitations on child sex crimes

Wednesday, Mar 8, 2017

* From a press release received last night…

Attorney General Lisa Madigan today urged members of the Illinois Senate’s Criminal Law Committee to pass legislation to eliminate the statutes of limitations for felony criminal sexual assault and sexual abuse crimes against children.

Madigan testified today before the Senate Criminal Law Committee in support of Senate Bill 189 to eliminate Illinois’ statutes of limitations that can allow child predators to go unpunished. Joining Madigan in testifying was Scott Cross, a survivor, Sen. Scott Bennett, the bill’s sponsor, and St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly.

The bill passed unanimously and heads to the full Senate for consideration.

“Children who suffer sexual assault and abuse often spend a lifetime trying to recover from the violations they have experienced,” Madigan said. “There should be no limitation on the pursuit of justice for felony sex crimes committed against children. We must ensure survivors are able to come forward in their own time and receive the support they need and deserve.”

“Dennis Hastert inflicted unbelievable pain on the lives of the youth he was entrusted to care for, yet he got a slap on the wrist,” Scott Cross said. “As a teacher and coach, Hastert silenced his victims through the power he had over them. As he ascended to political power and seemingly became untouchable, the pain and suffering of survivors got buried. He had the power, prestige and law on his side. As hard as it is to talk about the events of the past, the laws in Illinois - and across the country - have to change.”

“As a former prosecutor, I have witnessed firsthand the devastating physical and emotional impacts of child sex crimes. It is because of these experiences that I believe we must have the ability to prosecute the perpetrators of these horrendous crimes whenever the survivors come forward – even if that is years after the crime,” Bennett said.

“There is no time limit for the pain and trauma endured by child victims of sex assault, and there should be no time limit for our ability to reach just for them,” Brendan Kelly said.

As more child survivors of abuse and sexual assault have come forward to describe the difficult process that they have endured in reporting, states across the country have eliminated statutes of limitations for these crimes. Nationwide, 36 other states and the federal government have removed criminal statutes of limitations for some or all sexual offenses against children.

Currently no statutes of limitations exist in Illinois for murder, involuntary manslaughter, reckless homicide, arson, treason, forgery or the production of child pornography. Under current state law, the most egregious sexual offenses against children must be reported and prosecuted within 20 years of the survivor turning 18 years old. Two exceptions include cases in which the crimes were committed on or after Jan. 1, 2014 and either corroborating physical evidence exists or a mandated reporter failed to report the abuse.

* From Scott Cross’ testimony

“When I was abused, I knew exactly what was happening. As a young man, the challenge that you deal with and the suffering, the pain and torture, I still deal with that almost 38 years later,” Cross, now a banker in Wheaton, told committee members. “It’s not something you talked about. You didn’t do anything about it. It was an awful situation.

“I’m here today because I’m trying to move forward and have other voices move forward, that it’s OK, don’t keep that silence.” […]

“There’s no good reason to provide a legal loophole to protect sexual predators from prosecution,” he said. “The Illinois General Assembly should provide sexual predators no safe harbor under the law based on arbitrary deadlines established by the stroke of a pen.

“It should offend everyone’s faith in the judicial system that Illinois’ laws today would still allow child molesters to avoid prosecution for heinous acts of sexual abuse because survivors didn’t come forward in time. It took me 36-plus years to come forward.”

On average, Cross said, it takes a victim 42 years “before they’re able to deal with this.”

* More

“With children, it won’t come as any surprise, that it is almost always somebody in a position of trust because that’s how they’re able to develop that relationship,” said the Attorney General. Cross explained by saying, “And that’s why you don’t say anything. You remain silent. You know these people too well and it becomes - it’s my word against his, and you’re so, so hesitant to speak out to anybody because of the trust factor.”

Cross says he’s trying to move forward with his life, but it hasn’t been an easy journey. “The guilt that you have about not being able to stop it back then in 1979, and here it’s 2017 and we’re talking about it today,” said Cross.

SB 189 passed unanimously in the committee on Tuesday and now heads to the full senate.

Right now, there are 36 states that do not have statutes of limitations on child sex crimes.

The bill is here.

Thoughts?

- Posted by Rich Miller        

24 Comments
  1. - Ratso Rizzo - Wednesday, Mar 8, 17 @ 9:44 am:

    Bravo. In a lot of these cases, victims are hesitant to come forward until many years afterwards.


  2. - Retired Lawyer - Wednesday, Mar 8, 17 @ 9:51 am:

    I concur. Passage of this bill would advance the cause of justice. It would also bring Illinois in conformity with the majority of the states.


  3. - DuPage Saint - Wednesday, Mar 8, 17 @ 9:56 am:

    Should be ten years after person reaches 18. After that you start running into recovered memory territory. Or make it 15 or 20 but should end sometime


  4. - titan - Wednesday, Mar 8, 17 @ 10:05 am:

    I certainly support getting justice in all cases, and in these cases it seems to have a heightened urgency. But it gets really dicey proving things in court 20 to 38 years after a crime (particularly a crime generally committed in secret).

    The statute of limitations is not there to protect the guilty from prosecution for what they did, but to protect the innocent from getting framed or wrongfully convicted.


  5. - PJ - Wednesday, Mar 8, 17 @ 10:13 am:

    If the prosecutor can make the case, there shouldn’t be a statute of limitation. I don’t understand worrying about memory issues - one person’s memory isn’t enough to obtain a conviction (or even a prosecution in most cases). There would obviously have to be other evidence, just like in any other case.


  6. - JoanP - Wednesday, Mar 8, 17 @ 10:14 am:

    Statutes of limitations are NOT “loopholes”. They are intended to protect against all the difficulties in defending a case that come with the passage of time: failure of memory, unavailability of witnesses, loss of evidence.

    This is just wrong.


  7. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Mar 8, 17 @ 10:14 am:

    I don’t feel sorry for Denny Hastert, he’s in a place where everything is for sale, and he’s rich.


  8. - Tommydanger - Wednesday, Mar 8, 17 @ 10:16 am:

    Agree with the proposed change, but it does not go far enough. Consider this:

    A person breaks into a home, steals checks and later cashes them using a forged signature. While in the home, he sexually assaults the female homeowner. She had attended a sexual assault prevention seminar a few months back where attendees were told that if they were unable to defeat the assault, they should ask the attacker to use a condom to avoid STDs or an unwanted pregnancy. Fearing the assault was unavoidable, the homeowner asked him to use a condom and he did. Upon his leaving the scene, he set fire to the detached garage to distract attention.

    Fingerprints were recovered at the scene, but no DNA from the assault since the attacker used a condom. The attacker remained in the state and twelve years later,was arrested on an unrelated felony offense and his fingerprints came back as a match from the earlier assault. He later gave a full confession to all of the crimes.

    Twelve years later the woman can still identify the man as her attacker. What crimes can he be charged with?

    Only the forgery and the arson. The statute of limitations has run on all of the other offenses, including the sexual assault, since no DNA was recovered.

    To include forgery and arson as limitless offenses that can be prosecuted at any time and yet not include a survivor of sexual assault under the above scenario is just plain wrong.


  9. - Delimma - Wednesday, Mar 8, 17 @ 10:17 am:

    Wait, how do you prosecute one of these cases? Let’s say I decide to come forward now about something that happened in roughly 1979-1980. Are we actually suggesting that the person who is accused might go to jail based on… what? How do you prove beyond a reasonable doubt anything that happened that long ago? Obviously, if there is actual evidence, then there shouldn’t be a SOL, but I’m assuming that’s an incredibly rare case. Plus, what happens if someone comes forward and makes that allegation, and the criminal case is thrown out? Is the accuser open to possible libel/slander litigation at that point? I can only imagine the damage that could be done to someones life if they were accused of something so vile and horrible decades later without any proof.


  10. - Gooner - Wednesday, Mar 8, 17 @ 10:23 am:

    Initially, let’s start with the fact that these crimes are horrendous. Nothing here is intended to diminish that fact.

    However, I’ve had a role in defending some of these cases (doing work for a religious organization). Defending after a certain amount of time becomes extremely difficult.

    For instance, assume the defense was “I couldn’t have done it that summer. I was on sabbatical in Rome.” Finding that verification thirty years later would be nearly impossible.

    Let’s recall that Cardinal Bernardin was wrongfully accused. It happens.

    This proposal likely will have a strong level of public support, but it is also dangerous.


  11. - Perrid - Wednesday, Mar 8, 17 @ 10:24 am:

    I’m kinda ambivalent on it. On the one hand, I really don’t want offenders to be unpunished and free to offend again. On the other hand though, I really think that after more than a decade there will quite often not be enough evidence to say definitively that someone is guilty. And much as it pains me I would rather have a guilty person free than an innocent person jailed. Of course, another argument is that the strength of the evidence or lack thereof should be determined at the trial. Like I said, I don’t really feel strongly that one or the other is correct.


  12. - Anon - Wednesday, Mar 8, 17 @ 10:28 am:

    Apparently General Madigan has forgotten about the recovered-memory therapy in the 1980s and 90s. It resulted in adults who went into therapy with no memory of abuse coming out believing they had been sexually molested or tortured in Satanic cults. Therapists testified that based upon their clinical judgment, the memories were valid
    evidence of abuse.

    Would repealing the generous statute of limitations result in more innocent people accused of crimes that supposedly happened many decades earlier that the purported victims just remembered under therapy?


  13. - Anon - Wednesday, Mar 8, 17 @ 10:34 am:

    Recovered memory therapy is “the worst catastrophe to befall the mental health field since the lobotomy era,” writes Harvard’s Richard McNally, Remembering Trauma (2003).


  14. - Ron Burgundy - Wednesday, Mar 8, 17 @ 10:37 am:

    The easy thing to do is to get rid of the statute of limitations. The hard thing to do is to acknowledge they are put in place for a reason, because it becomes harder and harder to both prosecute and to defend such cases as time goes by. Even charging someone with such a crime 30 years later puts a permanent stain on them, regardless of the outcome. Some good examples noted above of the problem of establishing alibis, refuting the testimony of alleged victims, etc. Yes it’s the politically popular side of the issue she is on, but when you move the needle one way or the other, there are always consequences the other way.


  15. - anon - Wednesday, Mar 8, 17 @ 10:42 am:

    The civil statute of limitations should also be abolished. As mentioned, just because these suits would be allowed doesn’t mean they would be brought frequently as the burden is on the state/plaintiff and time always makes evidence less reliable.


  16. - @MisterJayEm - Wednesday, Mar 8, 17 @ 10:50 am:

    Statutes of limitations are NOT “loopholes”. They are intended to protect against all the difficulties in defending a case that come with the passage of time: failure of memory, unavailability of witnesses, loss of evidence.

    This is just wrong.

    I concur.

    – MrJM


  17. - Ron Burgundy - Wednesday, Mar 8, 17 @ 10:50 am:

    –The civil statute of limitations should also be abolished.–

    Really? That “burden” is just more likely than not. All that would take if it gets to a jury is “well, the accuser was 5 at the time, 30 years ago, and seems believable so let’s give him 10 million dollars.” Same concerns apply, except here it’s just ruining a person financially.


  18. - Ron Burgundy - Wednesday, Mar 8, 17 @ 10:57 am:

    Also consider this — What deterrent effect would removing these statutes of limitations have on volunteerism and the like? Will people have to think twice about volunteering as youth mentors, sports coaches, youth ministers, scout leaders, etc., knowing that some child decades down the road could level accusations against them which they would be in a difficult position to disprove?


  19. - VanillaMan - Wednesday, Mar 8, 17 @ 11:15 am:

    I want to support this, but I am uncomfortable that we will end up convicting people on subjective childhood memories. It will throw too much upon the prosecutor’s subjectivity, the defendant’s memories and the accuser’s memories.

    It’s too questionable.


  20. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Mar 8, 17 @ 11:38 am:

    42 years? Seems a bit hystrionic.


  21. - jim - Wednesday, Mar 8, 17 @ 11:42 am:

    this is a great platform for Lisa to use to raise her profile in a positive way.
    It’s just too bad for anyone who’s accused — no matter whether guilty or not — because it will be impossible to defend oneself against allegations involving events that occurred decades earlier.
    The good news is that there are relatively few cases of this nature, so the personal casualties generated by Lisa’s self-serving campaign will be small.
    You know what the Ruskis used to say — it’s better for 10 innocent men to be convicted than one guilty man to go free.


  22. - IRLJ - Wednesday, Mar 8, 17 @ 12:14 pm:

    Statutes of Limitations protect EVERYONE from false accusations.
    Don’t discard them lightly, based on anecdotes of abuse, emotional testimony by victims, politics or the headline of the day.


  23. - Harvest76 - Wednesday, Mar 8, 17 @ 12:23 pm:

    I’ll bet BVR would sign this if only they could get some much needed structural reforms like a property tax freeze or the elimination of Unions in it, am I right?


  24. - Anon - Wednesday, Mar 8, 17 @ 1:51 pm:

    The premise for this proposal is that people repress traumatic memories. Harvard’s Richard McNally contends the opposite is the case. People are more likely to complain that they can’t forget painful experiences than that they do. Holocaust survivors, for instance, tell and retell their stories. “Truly traumatic events are never forgotten, let alone if they are repeated,” McNally writes. This is contrary to recovered memory therapy.


Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.


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