BENNINGTON — The Legislature agreed Tuesday to extend the statute of limitations on crimes committed against children after a local prosecutor sought changes following the trial of former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.
40-year statute of limitations
Sexual crimes committed against a child will now have a 40-year statute of limitations. Current law only allows for prosecution of sexual assault, lewd and lascivious conduct, sexual exploitation of a minor within 10 years after it is reported or until a child turns 24.
Bennington County Chief Deputy State’s Attorney Christina Rainville said the Sandusky case was a “watershed moment” for her and led her to seek a change in Vermont law. She approached Bennington County Democratic Sen. Dick Sears, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, to seek an extended limit.
“Pennsylvania was able to go to trial with eight victims (against Sandusky),” Rainville said. “We can never do that because our cases are always barred by statute of limitations.
Rainville said six of the eight victims in the Sandusky case would not have been able to bring charges in Vermont because they would have been time-barred.
“We have kids reporting at ages 3 and 4, so it expires at 13 or 14. Children who have been sexually assaulted at ages 3 and 4, or when they’re young, the overwhelming majority develop post-traumatic stress disorder. We’re fighting just to keep these kids in school versus residential placement. They’re in no shape to be working with the prosecution and bringing cases to trial. That 10-year provision just has to go,” Rainville said. “Every year I have to dismiss cases either permanently or with no ability to bring them within the 10-year period.”
Rainville said there is typically at least one case per year in Bennington County that cannot be prosecuted because the statute of limitations had expired.
Sears introduced legislation that passed the Senate allowing for cases to be prosecuted until the victim turned 40. A House version eliminated the statute of limitations altogether. A conference committee resulted in a deal Tuesday that settled on a 40-year statute of limitations from the time a crime is committed.
“I think it’s a pretty good agreement. Both sides came a long way and we got a bill,” Sears said.
Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee were not willing to eliminate the limit, according to Sears. He said they feared defendants would be harmed because witnesses from decades ago may be unavailable.
Rainville said she is pleased with the 40-year agreement. It will help protect children from offenders that previously could not be prosecuted, but may still be around children, she said.
“The worst part is where it prevents us from protecting today’s children. That’s the part that really keeps me up at night. There are people in town who the police know have a history in old cases that we can’t bring because the statute of limitations has expired. They know they’re having contact with children.
In one recent case, a man was accused by four victims in the 1990s of sexual crimes. The statute prevented prosecution, however, and a new victim came forward, according to Rainville.
“It’s the exact same pattern he engaged in in the 1990s and he had been out on the street. Now we have another child who’s developed post-traumatic stress disorder and it should have just never happened,” she said.
Gov. Peter Shumlin is expected to sign the legislation into law in five to 10 days, according to Sears. It will take effect immediately.
Contact Neal P. Goswami at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow on Twitter: @nealgoswami