California Passes Law Inspired by Bill Cosby Scandal

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Beginning next year, the new law will end the statute of limitations in certain rape and child molestation cases.

Gov. Jerry Brown has signed a bill eliminating California's 10-year time limit for prosecutors to file rape and child molestation charges.

Brown made the announcement without comment Wednesday amid a nationwide debate sparked by sexual assault allegations against comedian Bill Cosby.

Beginning next year, the new law will end the statute of limitations in certain rape and child molestation cases. It will also end the time limit on older cases in which the statute of limitations has not yet expired.

The new law, SB813, will not, however, help women who made allegations against Cosby dating back more than 10 years.

Cosby has repeatedly denied the sexual abuse allegations made by dozens of women nationwide. He is facing just one criminal case stemming from sex abuse. A trial is set to begin in June in Pennsylvania.

Civil rights groups and public defenders say the California bill could lead to false convictions as memories fade among victims and witnesses.

Seventeen other states already have no statute of limitations on rape, according to the California Women's Law Center.

In June, Colorado doubled the amount of time sexual assault victims have to seek charges, from 10 to 20 years, a decision also prompted by the Cosby allegations. Nevada extended its time limit from four to 20 years last year after testimony by one of Cosby's accusers.

The new law "tells every rape and sexual assault victim in California that they matter and that, regardless of when they are ready to come forward, they will always have an opportunity to seek justice in a court of law," California state Sen. Connie Leyva, D-Chino, said in a statement. "Rapists should never be able to evade legal consequences simply because an arbitrary time limit has expired. There must never be an expiration date on justice!"

On Wednesday afternoon, lawyer Gloria Allred, who now represents more than 30 women accusing Cosby of sexual misconduct, issued a statement to THR about the passing of the law. Read it in full below.

Today California Governor Edmund G. Brown, Jr. signed SB 813 which will eliminate the statute of limitations for the criminal prosecution of rape and sexual assault in California. The statute of limitations is an arbitrary time period set by law and prior to SB 813 being signed by the Governor it prevented many rape victims from having their cases even considered for criminal prosecution if they had not reported it to law enforcement within the legal time period that California required.

A number of women, including many of my clients, had accused Bill Cosby of sexually assaulting them; but it was too late for California prosecutors to file a case even if they concluded that they had sufficient evidence to prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt. Even though it was too late for these accusers, we decided that we should work to change the law to help others.

Some of my clients who were accusers of Mr. Cosby testified with me before the California Legislature in support of the Justice for Victims Act. I also met with key advisors to Governor Brown in his office to explain why it was important that this bill become law.

The passage of this new law means that the courthouse doors will no longer be slammed shut in the face of rape victims. It puts sexual predators on notice that the passage of time may no longer protect them from serious criminal consequences for their acts of sexual violence.

We thank Senator Connie Leyva for carrying this important bill and Governor Brown for signing it into law. Although for constitutional reasons it cannot be retroactive, it is an important victory. We hope that this will send a message to other states to follow California’s lead and provide much needed justice for victims.  

Sept. 28, 4:10 p.m. PT: Updated with Allred statement.

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