A bill is currently being debated in the Ohio Senate that could eliminate the statute of limitations for rape cases and sexual assault cases. Senate Bill 324, proposed by Senator Jim Hughes, a Republican from Columbus, and Senator Shannon Jones, a Republican from Springboro, was introduced in April, but has stalled in debate in front of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. While there may not be time for it to be passed before the legislative session ends in mid-December, rape survivors have come forward in the past week to urge the committee to reconsider.
One woman who pleaded her case in front of the committee was directly affected by the current statute of limitations. After testing her long-forgotten rape kit, a suspect was identified in August and found and arrested based on the evidence in September; however, he was released in mid-November due to the fact that the rape occurred in 1993 and the current 20-year statute of limitations had run out. According to the sponsor of the bill, Hughes, the current statute of limitations for rape cases does irreparable damage to the justice system. “We should make sure the person who committed that crime is brought to justice. If we don’t, in a way, the [victims] are being victimized again, which is unacceptable,” said Hughes.
However, the bill does have detractors. Senator John Eklund, a Republican from Chardon and Chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, says that eliminating the statute of limitations would only disincentive witnesses to come forward, law enforcement to investigate, and prosecutors to file charges, as well as ensure that vital evidence is lost. Due to the recent press over the released accused rapist and the looming deadline to vote, though, the debate is coming to a head. Hughes and Jones hope to bring up the bill in the Senate GOP caucus this week to urge colleagues to vote for it.
Bill Being Debated at a Key Time for the Criminal Justice System in Ohio
This bill comes at an important time in Ohio, as an initiative started by Attorney General Mike DeWine, has led to the submission of 9,000 rape kits for DNA testing from old, unsolved cases. As of November 16, 5,443 of the rape kits had been tested, 2,033 of which came back with hits from the national database of DNA profiles. As many of these cases are nearing the statute of limitations, police resources are spread thin trying to prosecute newly identified suspects within the limits.
DeWine has come out generally in support of the bill, and there are indications that it could better hold criminals accountable. Some of the identified suspects were already in the system for similar crimes, indicating that they were repeat sexual crime offenders. This legislation could allow better prosecutions of longtime offenders. On the other hand, it is more difficult to corroborate testimony from cases dating back far in the past, and this legislation could complicate matters for prosecutors and defense attorneys.
No matter what the ultimate outcome of this bill in the current legislative session, it will be important to find a law that balances the needs for justice for the victims and due process for suspects. We will all have to wait to see what the Senate ultimately decides should happen with the bill, but it is clear that any changes to the statute of limitations for rape cases would take serious consideration.