An influx of sexual abuse scandals appear to be metastasizing across the country in a manner that has parents concerned for the well-being of their children. In the wake of the recent sexual abuse scandal that took place at Syracuse University, which witnessed the perpetrator avoid charges because of the statute of limitations, New York lawmakers intend to reform the current laws regarding child abuse.
The tragic events that are currently unfolding in Syracuse New York have citizens, and lawmakers alike, in an uproar. Bernie Fine, former assistant coach of the Syracuse University basketball program, was accused by two men of fondling them as juveniles beginning as far back as the 1980s. However, the current statute of limitations expired 5 years after the accusers were molested. Subsequently, the time alloted for legal proceedings has expired, allowing Fine to avoid charges. Had the accusations fallen within the statute of limitations, Fine would most likely have been charged for sexually molesting several young boys.
Statutes of limitations, which date back to early Roman Law, are a fundamental cog in the machine we know as United States law. These statutes, which apply to both civil and criminal actions, are designed to prevent fraudulent and stale claims from arising after all evidence has been lost or after the facts have become obscure through the passage of time or the defective memory, death, or disappearance of witnesses. Subsequently, they restrict the time within which legal proceedings may be brought.
However, the recent Syracuse scandal has generated a plea for reform. According to New York State Assemblywoman Margaret Markey, the current five-year statute of limitations should begin once the victims turn 23, as opposed to 18. Doing so would allow for a larger time frame to prosecute alleged child molesters. Markey stressed that she introduced the proposal seven years ago after a similar situation witnessed a priest, who allegedly molested a young boy, go free because of the statute of limitations. “People should be up in arms about this, but I don’t feel the rage,” Markey said. “These victims deserve to be compensated.”
According to the reformed bill proposed by Markey, a one-year window will be allotted to victims who bring civil claims against alleged abusers for whom the statute of limitations has passed. Doing so would allow the victims to seek an additional prison sentence in association with monetary compensation.
However, the bill proposed by Markey has been met with minimal opposition. The “civil window” suggested by Markey would allow anyone to bring a claim even if they were abused many decades previously. Therefore, the rights of the accused are impaired because extending the statute of limitations too far would make it impossible to present an adequate defense. For this reason, the U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled that criminal statutes of limitations cannot be changed retroactively. However Markey’s bill aims to alter the civil statute.
2007 witnessed Delaware adopt reforms that eliminated the civil statute of limitations on sexual abuse and allowed a two-year window for civil suits by victims for whom the statute of limitations had passed.
Following Markey’s proposal, are several other bills suggesting that the statute of limitations in New York needs revision. On such bill is attempting to change the law so the five-year period begins when a crime is first reported to law enforcement officials.
Democratic Assemblyman J. Gary Pretlow has sponsored a bill that would extend the statute of limitations for sex offenses against minors for 30 years. He believes that the recent atrocities that took place at Syracuse will help to get his bill passed in the coming year. Subsequently, he believes that child molesters should be charged for their crimes against humanity, even if it is later in life. Often times, there is a significant reason that victims wait to come forward with their claims. “Many times, people are too embarrassed to come forward,” he said. “If people do come forward later in life, the person who did it should be punished.”
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