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Why the Georgia Statute of Limitations for Rape is Necessary

January 4, 2021

If Georgia does decide to remove the statute of limitations for all rape cases, innocent people will undoubtedly suffer as a result.

With statutes of limitations, the criminal judicial system tries to strike a balance between the needs of victims and the due process rights of defendants by prohibiting prosecution after a certain period of time. Over the years, the Georgia legislature has gradually eroded these statutes of limitations with regards to sexual offenses involving children. Now, some Georgia legislators and victim advocacy groups want to further tip those scales by eliminating the statute of limitations for rape.

Why the Statute of Limitations for Rape is Important

In Georgia, serious violent crimes for which a life sentence can be imposed generally must be prosecuted within seven years. Rape is an exception though where the State has 15 years to bring charges. However, the law currently provides for no statute of limitations in cases where DNA is used to identify the accused. So, in those cases, the prosecution can be brought at any time. Now, SB 287 is being introduced to remove the statute of limitations in all rape cases.

Pursuant to SB 287, a bill introduced in the Georgia legislature in early 2020, charges of rape, aggravated sexual battery, and aggravated sodomy could be pursued at any time, no matter how long has passed between the alleged crime and the indictment. Supporters of the bill believe it is a logical extension of the current law, since there is no statute of limitation with respect to any of these offenses anyway in cases involving DNA.

However, it is cases without DNA where a statute of limitations becomes so important. Without any sort of physical evidence to either prove or disprove the allegations, the defendant’s ability to defend himself becomes significantly compromised over the passage of time. While it’s easy to sympathize with rape victims, eliminating the statute of limitations for rape has serious implications for the accused. Time limits are necessary in such cases so that the due process rights of defendants are protected.

When statutes of limitations are eliminated, it is harder to build a defense because:

  • The passage of time could mean that evidence is no longer available, or if previously gathered, was lost, or corrupted in some manner;
  • Witnesses can die, move, or forget what they saw or knew about the allegations; or
  • The defendant may not remember important facts that would establish a valid defense or alibi; the memory of the alleged victim could dim as well.

Statutes of limitations exist to ensure that convictions are based on competent evidence and that access to this evidence will be available to the parties. When removed, the ability to obtain evidence naturally suffers and, in turn, the likelihood of false convictions increases.

Rape Convictions in Georgia Result in Mandatory Minimum Sentences

A rape conviction in Georgia is serious for many reasons. Not the least of which is that by law defendants must receive a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years in prison, with no chance for parole. Many defendants convicted of rape receive a life sentence. So, the consequences of a false conviction could not be any greater.

In light of this, it would seem grossly unjust to allow someone to make a rape allegation more than 15 years after the fact, without any DNA or other physical evidence available to support it. Our firm represents many individuals who have been falsely accused of rape and we work quickly to gather the evidence that will prove their innocence. This often involves the use of cell phone forensics, video surveillance footage, texts and social media communications, and testimony from eyewitnesses.

The longer the period of time before the allegation is made, the less of a chance that we will be able to secure this evidence for our client. This means that we may be unable to prove the client’s innocence. Imagine if we were unable to secure the cell phone data or video surveillance footage in these cases because it no longer exists. Would someone who is innocent run the risk now of being falsely convicted?

If Georgia does decide to remove the statute of limitations for all rape cases, innocent people will undoubtedly suffer as a result. False convictions and potential life sentences for those who are unable to adequately defend themselves far outweigh the interests of giving victims even more time, beyond the current 15 years, to bring rape allegations to light.

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