Earlier in January, the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office announced that it was considering charging Harvey Weinstein for two Beverly Hills sex crime cases. The District Attorney has established a special task force to review these cases as well as other cases brought against Weinstein.

The Weinstein scandal broke in the fall of  last year when the New York Times released an article that spoke of decades worth of sexual harassment claims against Weinstein. Since then, list of women coming forth with sexual harassment allegations against Weinstein has increased, as has the list of men in the entertainment industry who have been accused of sexual misconduct. These stories have sparked the #metoo movement and have encouraged many women (and men) to bring forth their own  stories.

But as the darker sides of Hollywood are being uneaerthed, so too are the limitations of the law and the legal remedies available for these victims.

While dozens have come forth to accuse Weinstein of sexual misconduct, the statute of limitations restrains the cases the Los Angeles District Attorney can bring charges against. In California, the statute of limitations for non-aggravated rape is six years. There is one exception involving DNA: if DNA can identify the rapist, then the charge may be brought within one year of the DNA discovery. However, this only applies if the biological evidence collected from the offense was analyzed for DNA evidence within two years of the date of the offense.

In other words, for many of these women, the statute of limitations in California prevent the district attorney from prosecuting Weinstein for their cases. And to many, there is a sense that the law has placed an arbitrary limit for victims of sexual crimes preventing them from seeking justice.

The purpose of placing a statute of limitations on sex crimes is to protect defendants from wrongful charges; the idea is that the accuracy of memories fade over time as does the availability of physical evidence. But, such a hard line does not take into account the hurdles of reality that most victims face: pressures to settle, non-disclosure acts, and fear of retribution from perpetrators in powerful positions.

Not all states have a statute of limitations for sexual crimes. New York, for example, has no statute of limitations for prosecuting rape. This is particularly important in the Weinstein saga as there are concurrent investigations going on in Manhattan. Unfortunately, New York does have a five year statute of limitations for other sex felonies.

The Weinstein saga is not the first time the California statute of limitations has come up in the Entertainment Industry. A year ago the issue arose in regards to allegations of sexual misconduct against Bill Cosby. In response, Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill that ended the statute of limitations for rape cases. However, this law is not retroactive and therefore will only apply to crimes committed after January 1, 2017.

All is not completely lost, should prosecutors go forth and charge Weinstein the testimony of victims who did not file within the statute of limitations may still be used in evidence to build a case against Weinstein.

Audrey Yue

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *