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Statute of Limitations Could be Removed In Certain Sex Assualt Cases

By Gina Jordan

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wfsu/local-wfsu-893077.mp3

Tallahassee, FL – A measure that would eliminate the statute of limitations in sexual battery cases involving children under age sixteen was taken up by a House committee Friday. They heard testimony from a rape victim who explained why the law needs to be changed.

Getting rid of the statute of limitations means there would be no deadline for prosecution of such a case. A victim could come forward decades later to report the attack. Before the Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Committee, Representative Perry Thurston asked the bill's sponsor, Representative Chris Dorworth, about the difficulty a defendant might have after a period of time when there is no physical evidence available.

Thurston asked, "Have you considered that by extending the statute the position that may put someone who, God forbid, is falsely accused of something like this?"

Dorworth responded, "Are there going to be times when somebody who is innocent has been accused? Sure, but the reason we have a court system and the reason we have the standards of proof that we do is because we don't want to put innocent people in jail. And my heart goes out to anybody who's been accused of a crime they didn't commit or accused of something they didn't commit. But just the process of having to deal with that in court is not in and of itself a punishment."

Dorworth said the bill is not retroactive. It would only apply to cases moving forward. Colonel Greg Brown with the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office spoke in support of the legislation.

"I personally am involved in a case right now where the subject was involved in youth sports. By the time the oldest daughter got old enough to tell us what was going on, the statute of limitations expired on her, on a middle daughter, and we barely made it by a couple months of the youngest daughter that was abused."

The committee then heard compelling testimony from a man who said he knows all too well why the bill is needed.

"I was seven-years-old, lured into a neighbor's house, bound, raped, and threatened into silence with a gun and a knife. The terror I cannot begin to describe. But you need to understand that the impact of that does silence the victim in sixty to seventy percent of the cases, according to a dozen studies overseen by the American Psychological Association, and that terror comes back, and again and again and again as you work to recover, get to a safe enough place to approach law enforcement and get help."

When Michael Dolce came forward in his late twenties to report the attack, he found out it was too late, he said, leaving his attackers free and beyond the reach of the law. He testified that the average perpetrator offends over a hundred times, starting in their early twenties and continuing into their seventies. Dolce read a letter from a woman in an online support group who was molested as a child and developed an eating disorder.

"She says, I suffered from anorexia most of my teen years. I am 38-years-old now. It took me until my mid-twenties to get it under control, but my kidneys were already damaged beyond repair. Long story short, I am dying. My kidneys are shutting down. I have been given, I am told, at best a year to live.' She died five months after writing me that note. She got a death sentence. Her perpetrator, head custodian at an elementary school, he got no sentence."

Dolce is now 40-years-old and practicing law in Palm Beach County. His words helped the bill sail through the committee. It has one more stop in the House, but two more in the Senate before it has a chance of coming up for a floor vote.