LA Sex Crime Defense Attorney Paul Takakjian Discusses The Potential Harm Of SB813
Sometime between now and the end of September, Governor Brown will sign – or veto – Senate Bill 813, which would end the statute of limitations for felony sex offenses in California. Among other supporters of the bill, state Senator Connie Leyva (D – Chino) and attorney Gloria Allred have spoken up in favor of the change, basing their arguments largely upon the drama surrounding Bill Cosby and the dozens of women who have made civil complaints against him for alleged sexual assault. This brings to mind the old adage that “Tough cases make bad law.” The notion here is that an alleged injustice is taking place in that the great majority of Cosby’s alleged victims are precluded from seeking justice in the criminal courts because the statutes of limitations (with one notable exception) have lapsed, thus precluding criminal prosecution.
Forget for the moment that Mr. Cosby’s once unimpeachable reputation in the country has now been forever and utterly destroyed. Forget that a number of the alleged victims still have redress in civil courts where they can pursue monetary damages against the entertainer. The impulse for redress in criminal court is understandably strong, but in this instance, it is nevertheless misbegotten.
With very few exceptions (murder being the principal one) most criminal offenses have defined statutes of limitations which requires that charges be brought within a certain number of years or forever barred. The notion behind this is really twofold; first, that police and prosecutors should be required to act in a diligent fashion, and that they should be required to prepare and bring charges in a timely manner and not years or decades after the alleged occurrence. Second, the overarching notion of fairness is that no person should be called upon to defend himself or herself against stale allegations when potentially exonerating evidence has disappeared, and when helpful witnesses and memories have faded away.
As the law currently stands in California, most felony sex offenses can still be prosecuted within 10 years of the alleged offense. As if that weren’t enough time, many felony sex offenses involving a minor victim under age 18 can be prosecuted at
before the alleged victim’s 40th birthday. Said another way, that’s a statute of limitations that can easily exceed 22 years! Surely this is more than sufficient time in which to bring charges against a citizen.
Part of the reason for this whole legal hullabaloo is that while there is an active, passionate and vocal lobby for victim’s rights, with politicians eagerly falling over themselves to prove that they are the toughest of the tough when it comes to prosecuting “perverts,” there simply is no lobby whatsoever for people
of these kinds of offenses. And of course, the longer it takes for charges to be brought, the greater the likelihood there is that more and more innocent people will be caught up in the legal net, vainly trying to “unring the bell” of a false allegation of sexual impropriety. For this reason, it may be argued that the current statutory scheme gives police, prosecutors, and victims more than enough time to bring their charges to court.
The potential prison sentences for felony sex offenses in California are lengthy to the point of being described as Draconian, and of course, imprisonment is only one aspect of the potential consequences. Even upon release back into society, sex offender parolees must still contend with lifetime registration and with residency restrictions.
All of these factors merit the Governor’s consideration as he ponders his upcoming decision on SB 813.
Attorney Paul Takakjian is a Board Certified Criminal Law Specialist and former LA sex crime special prosecutor. Paul has specialized in sex crime defense since 1987, prevailing in numerous jury trials involving clients falsely accused of Rape, Child Molestation, Possession of Child Pornography, and other California sex offenses.