COLUMBUS, Ohio (WJW) — Ohio is one of 16 states that still has a statute of limitations for cases of rape, according to the sponsors of a bill that would change that.
The bill, introduced by Democratic State Senators Nickie Antonio and Sean O’Brien, would not only eliminate the statute of limitations it would address a loophole in which one spouse can still violate their partner if they are incapacitated by drugs or alcohol.
The Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association supports the bill, the Ohio Public Defender does not; as is the case with many bills that change criminal laws one group is usually at odds with the bill over the other.
However in this case, the Ohio Public Defender is not against victims seeking justice and says statutes of limitation are there to protect them as much as the accused.
“We need people’s memories to be accurate and we need statute of limitations to ensure that justice is being brought swiftly,” said Niki Clum with the Ohio Public Defender.
Clum points out that it is the responsibility of law enforcement to vigorously investigate crimes and bring resolution to the issue at hand as quickly as possible so all involved are served by justice.
She says, eliminating that time table to get the job can be problematic if the victims memory of the event degrades or is altered over time and/or coercion.
“What we do know from research is that jury’s actually find eyewitness testimony very compelling, even more compelling than DNA evidence sometimes, and so that’s why it’s so important that these cases are brought swiftly so that people are not penalized just because somebody may be misremembering the circumstance,” said Clum.
O’Brien, a former prosecutor, says none of that matters if the case can be solved through science.
“Memories doesn’t matter because we have DNA proof that [the accused has] done this crime,” said O’Brien.
However Clum also points out that advancements in technology don’t always translate into more credible evidence.
“We used to think hair analysis was more credible than it is, so we don’t know what DNA evidence is gonna tell us and how that technology is gonna change in 20-30-40 years,” said Clum.
But it just may take that long for a victim to come forward because of the trauma they endure as a result of the rape, according to the bill’s joint sponsor Antonio, and if it does they will not have an opportunity to seek justice under current Ohio law.
While she is hopeful the bill will get more hearings, she is fearful it won’t.
“I want a debate. I want to know why someone would be against it, and I want us to have that discussion. I don’t want to have one hearing and [be] done,” said Antonio.
Earlier this year Governor Mike DeWine called for an end to the statute of limitations for rape in the aftermath of an investigation into allegations against Dr. Richard Strauss.
Strauss is accused of sexually assaulting dozens of young men at The Ohio State University over a nearly 20 year span from the late 70’s to the early 2000’s.
Some of his victims fall outside the statute of limitations and can no longer seek justice for what happened.
Another bill designed to provide that opportunity just for those individuals is going through the legislative process right now.
Antonio says, it is unfair and unjust that some victims of rape will be afforded justice while others will not.
Many rapes go unreported, and of those that are few ever reach a determination in court.
There are many reasons for this. One of those reasons is because some victims simply ran out of time as they processed, lived with, or repressed what happened to them.
“Not being able to prosecute it because the statute of limitation is just not right,” said O’Brien.
The bill is being heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee.