Attorney General Lockyer Expresses Disappointment in U.S. Supreme Court Ruling Freeing Child Molesters

Court Order Prevents Prosecution of Priests and Others Who Committed Crimes Before 1988

Thursday, June 26, 2003
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(SACRAMENTO) – Attorney General Bill Lockyer today said he was extremely disappointed with a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that overturns California's landmark law allowing child molesters to be prosecuted up to a year after the assault is reported, even if the crime occurred years ago. The court said it is unconstitutional to retroactively apply the law to criminally prosecute child molesters for crimes they committed more than six years before the law went into effect in 1994.

"Today's ruling will allow child molesters to escape prosecution simply because they preyed on our children years ago," Lockyer said. "Studies show that the majority of child molestation victims are too scared to report the crimes, and many are so traumatized that they refuse to report even after they become adults. When innocent victims summon the courage to come forward to prevent other assaults on children we should reward them by prosecuting their offenders, no matter how much time has passed."

The California law was enacted based on evidence that children who are sexually abused often delay reporting the crimes for many years. Scientific data show that child molesters have a high recidivism rate – 42 percent – and that they do not stop committing crimes as they age. The court's ruling will affect those cases where a child molester was prosecuted under the new law for crimes that were committed prior to 1988. About 800 child molesters have been prosecuted under the law, but it is unclear how many of those crimes were committed before 1988.

The law was upheld by the California Supreme Court in 1999. The purpose of statute of limitation laws, among other reasons, is to ensure criminal prosecutions are filed before victims' memories fade, evidence is lost and to protect persons from being wrongly accused of criminal wrongdoing. The California law was narrowly crafted to meet the state's compelling interest in prosecuting child molesters and preventing offenders from harming more children. The law protected the rights of the accused by only authorizing prosecutors to file charges when there is independent and admissible evidence that clearly and convincingly corroborates the victim's allegation.

In finding the law violated the Ex Post Facto Clause, the high court rejected the Attorney General's argument that a person who is successful in asserting a statute of limitations bar is just as much a criminal as he was the day the act was committed.

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