Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Sick, twisted, and unjust: forcing a man to stand trial for alleged rape that supposedly occurred 40 years ago

A man is on trial for allegedly raping his sister between 1970 and 1972 when he was 15-17 and she was 8-11.

Did you get that?  That's forty years ago.

And yet, there are unquestionably hordes of people who think justice would be served by bringing a man to trial even if the complainant sat on her hands for 35 or 40 years.

In the U.S., there is a trend to extend and even abolish statutes of limitations for rape.  Let's put this in perspective for all those who think there should be no statute of limitations for rape. Do you favor the same rule for false rape claims?  Well, nobody seems to care about that. The fact is, false reports are often subject to a very limited statute of limitations that will bar most claims if the woman's lie has its intended effect and her fraud is not discovered for several years.

Now that's fair, isn't it?  But wait. It gets worse. Much worse.

Removing the time frame for prosecution opens the door to turn nasty family feuds into criminal cases.  Alleged rapes from long ago will be held over the heads of adult males to exact concessions and financial consideration.  Extending or eliminating statutes of limitations for rape leaves innocent men at a serious, and possibly fatal, evidentiary disadvantage. Any trial lawyer can attest that the passage of time erodes one’s ability to defend charges.

What are the practical implications if an innocent man is accused of raping an acquaintance ten, or twenty-five, or even fifty years ago? In all likelihood, the man’s accuser would assert that the supposed act occurred on a specific date, at a specific place, and she would paint a vivid picture of the supposed surrounding circumstances of the sexual encounter. She would justify her ability to remember with specificity by the supposed trauma she experienced.

In contrast, the innocent man’s memory will have faded to the point that he likely would have no recollection of even where he was at the time in question; whether he was out of town with the high school basketball team; sick in bed with the flu; away visiting grandma; whether he or she were drinking; what they might have discussed; where they went or with whom they interacted prior to and after the supposed sexual encounter. In fact, the most an innocent man might be able to honestly assert is, "I would never rape a woman and did not do what she alleges, but I have no clear recollection of the night in question."

He almost certainly would have long ago destroyed any evidence proving he was somewhere else at the time of the alleged act (for example, he would have discarded calendars, plane tickets showing he was out of town, credit card invoices showing he ate at some out-of-town restaurant, and any other tangible evidence that would exonerate him). He almost certainly would have destroyed any evidence showing a consensual relationship with his accuser (e.g., love letters or cards, voice mails, emails or text messages). Alibi witnesses likely will have disappeared or even died.

In short, an innocent man hauled into court on rape charges ten, twenty-five, even fifty years after the alleged act would be like the warrior of old entering battle stripped of his shield and sword. His ability to defend the charges would be decimated by the passage of time.

Is that in any sense fair to innocent men?

Of course it isn't.  So why do we allow it? 

Because we don't really care about innocent men or boys.