Ohio leaders put pressure on lawmakers to eliminate statutes of limitations for rape


COLUMBUS (WKBN) – There has been a growing swell of support for the elimination of the statute of limitations for rape in Ohio.

In the 130th General Assembly in 2013 and 2014, Democrat State Senators Nina Turner and Capri Cafaro introduced a bill that would have eliminated the statute of limitations.

The bill was given one hearing, as is required for bills introduced before a certain date, and then ignored for the remainder of the two-year assembly.

In the next General Assembly, the 131st from 2015 to 2017, then Republican State Representative Stephanie Kunze introduced a bill to extend the statute of limitations from 20 years to 25 years. It passed and was enacted into law.

Last fall, in November 2018, State Senator Joe Schiavoni once again introduced a bill to completely eliminate the statute of limitations. He said it was in direct response to what was going on at Ohio State University and an investigation into Richard Strauss, who was accused of misdeeds stretching back decades.

The bill was introduced well after the deadline for a guaranteed hearing. With the Senate busy dealing with bills in lame duck just weeks before the end of the assembly, it received no hearings.

However, this year, as the new General Assembly began once more, Republican State Representative Brett Hillyer introduced a bill designed to help potential victims of Strauss. It limits the alterations of the statute of limitations so narrowly, only those potentially involving Strauss are likely to be affected.

On Monday afternoon, Hillyer called a news conference for Tuesday to discuss the status of his bill. That may be in response to weeks of pressure on legislative leaders from outside the Statehouse.

The day the findings of the investigation into the Strauss issues at Ohio State University, Governor Mike DeWine called on the legislature to eliminate the statute of limitations on the crime of rape.

The next week, lawmakers took a measured stance in response to his call to action and made no promises.

On Monday, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost joined the governor in asking lawmakers to make changes to the law.

In a letter to legislative leaders of the House and Senate, Yost once again asked them to end the statute of limitations.

The letter is signed by former Ohio Attorneys General Richard Cordray (D), Nancy Rogers (D), Jim Petro (R), Betty Montgomery (R) and Lee Fisher (D), making it a bipartisan effort.

At a news conference announcing the letter, Yost, Rogers and Montgomery said rape and murder have a lot in common in the sense that they are grievous offenses.

“In some ways, you might say that it’s worse than homicide because the trauma that stems from rape is born by the survivor for the remainder of life,” Yost said.

Yost shared some of his experiences meeting with rape victims from when he was a prosecuting attorney.

“You can see them, the pain in their eyes, their body language, sometimes they’re shaking and crying years later. So the human mind is remarkably resilient but make no mistake about it, the damage that is done in the commission of this crime, for many people, leaves them unable to even face it, much less talk with anyone about it,” Yost said.

The legal minds who penned the letter agree placing a time limit on someone dealing with that kind of trauma and experiencing such a personal violation is not right.

“We’ve come so far in the last 30 years in the understanding of the nature of this crime, I think now is the time to consider this change in the law and the Strauss case is a part of that,” Yost said.

Montgomery posited there are two very good reasons to make this change now.

“One is science has changed and science helps us determine that we’re getting the right guy. And two, society has changed,” she said.

That societal change is reflected in the Me Too Movement, Rogers described.

“There also are a series of national events that have led people to understand the kinds of forces that inhibit the reporting, sometimes, of rape,” she said.

With all of the support building toward this seemingly inevitable change, there remains opposition.

The Ohio Public Defenders Office released this statement Monday:

Eliminating the statute of limitations for offenses of rape will result in unintended consequences. Ohio has a long history of not being responsive to crimes against women. It will create a lack of incentive for law enforcement to conduct prompt and thorough investigations immediately. Rape kits have languished, unprocessed and untouched, on the shelves for years. We do not want to further incentivize this behavior. Statutes of limitations are established to ensure that all key players are doing their jobs efficiently and effectively. Memories fade and evidence depletes and, in some cases, even disappears. Victims, witnesses and those accused of crimes deserve swift resolutions and finality to their cases. Just like the old adage, ‘justice delayed is justice denied.’”

Yost rejected the arguments of fading memories and lost evidence as not good enough to keep the limitations in place.

“Respectfully, I think that that argument fails because we don’t have a statute of limitation on murder and the same arguments about failing memories would apply in any other situation,” he said.

Yost, himself, acknowledged his own opinion on this matter has changed over the last 30 years. He was taught the statutes of limitations protect the legal system, but he says it is not always that cut and dry. The circumstances surrounding rape as a crime that impacts its victim in such a deep and profound way must be treated differently than simple theft, he believes.

In the news conference, Yost echoed the sentiments of Governor DeWine.

“I don’t think that a rapist ought to be able to run out the clock on justice,” Yost said.

The Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association was unable to respond to a request for comment on this story before it was published.

The Ohio Senate Republican Caucus Spokesman John Fortney did provide a statement on behalf of GOP lawmakers in the State Senate:

We supported expedited testing of the rape kit backlog and if and when legislation is presented, our members will have a thorough discussion about it.”

Some Democrat state representatives were quick to applaud Yost’s letter and show their support for such a piece of legislation.

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