On May 3, 2019, DC Law 22-311 went into effect. The amendment changed Title 23 of the District of Columbia Official Code to eliminate the criminal statute of limitations for first, second, third, and fourth-degree sexual abuse.
It extended the statute of limitations for violations of required reporting of abused or neglected children. It also created a 2-year revival period for claims that would be time-barred under section 12-301 of the District of Columbia Official code before the effective date of this act.
Is there a statute of limitations for sexual abuse in Washington DC?
A DC criminal prosecution for first, second, third, and fourth-degree sexual abuse can be commenced at any time in the District of Columbia if you are under the age of 35.
Victims under 35 years old can bring civil compensation claims any time up to their 40th birthday, or 5 years from when they knew or reasonably should have known of a sexually abusive act, whichever is later. Victims older than 35 may bring civil claims within 5 years from when they knew or should have known of the abusive act.
Why do assault victims stay silent?
It can take years for assault survivors to even be able to acknowledge the sexual abuse themselves, and this is just the first of many barriers that victims of abuse will face. Statutes of limitations are designed to ensure that no one is forever subject to prosecution, however, they do not fully consider the realities that victims of sexual assault face.
Realizing trauma can be its own challenge, aside from dealing with psychological injuries of shame, humiliation, and fear.
If and when one decides to bring sexual abuse charges, they face the very real possibility that they will relive their traumatic experiences, only to be disbelieved or attacked. These realities, which, in the past, have been shunned or ignored, are more frequently being faced.
DC Law 22-311 is meant to provide sexual abuse survivors who wish to commence legal proceedings and seek justice with more breathing room. These changes reflect an attitude that, for justice to have a chance in these cases, survivors must not feel rushed or pressured into commencing legal action for something so personal.
Why do statutes of limitations exist?
Statute of limitation laws exist to maintain public safety and protect defendants from wrongful charges. Over the passage of time, memories fade, evidence is more susceptible to being lost, and witnesses can become unreliable or difficult to locate.
From a Washington D.C. sexual assault lawyer perspective, it could be challenging to put together a good defense against an alleged offense of sexual misconduct from decades ago, especially if one has no recollections about those circumstances.
If witnesses are unknown, unreliable, or absent, one’s defense might have to rely on flimsy generalizations about one’s semi-remembered life station if no other exonerating evidence is available. Many have noted the difficulties in balancing developing attitudes towards, for example, rape charges with traditional defense goals.
As with many things in law, there is no one solution that works for all parties and fully reflects the myriad of changing attitudes toward sexual abuse and victims’ rights.
Defending sexual abuse allegations in DC
Criminal defense attorneys will sometimes also have to consider “John Doe” DNA indictments that identify the presumed assailant simply by their genetic profile. If collected DNA eventually matches with someone in the database, a warrant that defies a jurisdiction’s statute of limitations is amended with the match’s name and issued.
On the other side, DNA evidence that could help the case of someone charged with sexual assault must be collected with care and analyzed with precision. It must be safeguarded through the chain of custody and kept free of contamination.
In many sexual assault cases, evidence, DNA and otherwise, is poorly collected and handled or sometimes not collected. Criminal defense attorneys may find themselves litigating a sexual abuse lawsuit with little or unusable biological evidence, few witnesses, and a client with little memory of the alleged events.
Police misconduct in sexual assault cases
With no statute of limitations for sexual abuse cases in Washington D.C., defense attorneys may also have more cases where they must figure out how to deal with alleged improper police conduct in handling the complainants.
One reason for eliminating the statute of limitations was to give survivors an unlimited time limit for commencement of legal action, but some state that survivors’ reluctance stems more from how they fear they will be treated upon coming forward.
Survivors remember disdainful or dismissive treatment by law enforcement officers who have disbelieved the survivor or, in some cases, have even implied that the survivor is fabricating their accounts of events. This type of police misconduct in sexual assault cases is another thing that criminal defense attorneys must consider.
Criminal defense lawyers – Washington, DC
The District of Columbia removed the statute of limitations for sexual abuse charges to give more credence and space to survivors of sexual assault. The common scenario in these cases occupying the minds of both prosecutors and defense attorneys, is witness availability and testimony, DNA evidence, and investigative conduct, which will now exist without time limitations.
How Does Removing Statutes of Limitations Affect Defense Strategies in Sex Abuse Cases?
As survivors of sexual abuse, if they come forward at all, do not do so until decades later, criminal defense attorneys may face more situations than ever in which they will need to reach back in time just as far as the survivor but may find little to help their case.
If you find yourself facing rape or sexual-assault charges, contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer at Bruckheim & Patel – Washington DC.