Statute of Limitations and Sex Crimes: Should There Be a Time Limit on Reporting Sex Crimes?

          Yesterday, Palm Beach Post Capital Bureau writer Dara Kam wrote an article entitled "Lantana mother of sex-abuse victim joins fight against molesters."  In her article, Ms. Kam recounted the case of a man who was repeatedly molested when he was a young boy but who waited until after the statute of limitations expired to report the crime.  He later committed suicide.  The man's mother is now working on a ballot initiative to amend Florida's constitution so that there is no statute of limitations for sex crimes.

 

          That sounds like a laudable goal until one realizes that some individuals who are accused of sex crimes are innocent.  For example, consider the case of Michael Feichin Hannon.  A ten-year-old girl named Una Hardester accused him of sexually assaulting her.  Prior to her making that accusation, her father had been convicted of assaulting Hannon's father.  Hannon himself was ultimately convicted and given a four-year suspended sentence for sexually assaulting Ms. Hardester.

 

          Some years later, Ms. Hardester recanted her accusation against Hannon and confessed that she had originally been motivated by revenge for her father's conviction.  The Irish Court of Criminal Appeal eventually issued Mr. Hannon a certificate of miscarriage of justice.

 

         With no statute of limitations in effect, baseless accusations such as Ms. Hardester's could be made decades after a sex crime was supposedly committed.  So what, you might ask.  Well, to answer that question, consider the following scenario:

 

          Suppose a woman in 2009 accuses a man of having molested her thirty years ago in August 1979.  The accused knows that he's innocent because he was bicycling throughout Europe with his college roommate during that same month.  Unfortunately for him, though, his roommate has since died and the airline that he used to fly to Europe went out of business years ago.  How exactly is that man supposed to prove his innocence?  His best evidence is gone forever through no fault of his own. 

 

          It is precisely because of situations such as this that courts and legislatures long ago realized the need for statutes of limitation.  Maybe we should reconsider trying to abolish them when it comes to sex crimes.

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