Actor and comedian Bill Cosby was in the news a lot in 2015 for unfortunate reasons. Cosby was accused of sexual assault by over 50 women, in incidents dating back to the 1960s. However, as with most crimes, a statute of limitations sets deadlines for the prosecution of these crimes. Having a statute of limitations helps protect the accused from decaying evidence and faded memories. Formulating a criminal defense in these cases can be difficult.
As of 2014, in cases involving sex crimes, the statute of limitations ranges from three years to three decades in 34 states and Washington D.C. These extended deadlines are supported by some who say that strict deadlines may put pressure on investigators as well as victims who are struggling to come forward and face what happened to them. In states such as Virginia, the sex-crime statute of limitations has been eliminated altogether. Other states may be moving in that direction as well.
Attorneys who have defended those accused of sexual assault find that the gap of time between the alleged incident and the reporting of the incident helps their case.
In the case of Cosby, state prosecutors managed to bring charges against him just in the nick of time, charging him with sexual assault against one of the women only weeks before the statute of limitations ran out. The woman in question allegedly told police what happened a year after the assault. Prosecutors initially did not believe they had enough evidence to convict Cosby, and said that both the accuser and Cosby could be seen in a less than flattering light. Now, with more women coming forward and new evidence in place, prosecutors feel they can go forward with the charges.
The incident allegedly occurred in January 2004 when the woman visited Cosby’s mansion to discuss her career with her mentor. Cosby then allegedly offered her three pills of what he said was herbal medication. The woman says she felt weak and became barely conscious. Cosby is accused of then fondling and raping her. Cosby denies this saying that the sex was consensual. Cosby is out on $1 million bail and, if convicted, could face up to 10 years in prison.
Source: Chicago Tribune, “Why prosecutors charged Cosby 12 years later, and why other rape cases quietly die,” Danielle Paquette, Dec. 31, 2015