In the public eye: Bill in New York State Assembly would lengthen statute of limitations regarding sexual abuse cases
This January, Assemblywoman Margaret Markey (D-Queens) will reintroduce The Child Victims Act, or a bill similar to it, in the hopes of extending the statute of limitations for child molestation in New York state.
Currently, the statue of limitation for prosecuting a child sexual offender in New York expires five years after the victim turns 18. This bill would extend the statute of limitations by five years — meaning crimes could be prosecuted 10 years after the victim turns 18.
The bill would also give former child abuse victims a one-year window to report abuse, regardless of when it occurred. Specifically, for Bobby Davis and Mike Lang, the two men who accused former associate head coach for men’s basketball Bernie Fine of sexual abuse, this bill would allow them to file a lawsuit against Fine.
“It completely suspends the civil statute of limitations for one year so that older cases, so those involving Bobby Davis and Mike Lang in Syracuse, would be able to bring an action,” said Mike Armstrong, communications director for the assemblywoman. “It’s a sort of makeup for past injustices. That’s been the sticking point for the opposition to the bill.”
Davis and Lang both accused Fine of sexually abusing them when they were children. Fine was fired from SU last November. He has denied all wrongdoing and was not charged.
Statutes of limitations exist because those accused have less of an ability to defend themselves if the accusation is made after a long period of time, said Todd Berger, assistant professor of law at Syracuse University’s College of Law.
He said such factors include witnesses not remembering specific events or dying.
“There’s a balancing test there because the more serious the events, the less inclined people are to allow the clock to run out on it,” Berger said. “The more serious the event, the more interest society has in trying to prosecute it.”
When a sexual offense is committed against someone under 18, the statute of limitations does not begin to run until the victim reaches the age of 18 or the offense is reported to a law enforcement agency, whichever comes first, Berger said.
Murder, rape and incest have no statute of limitations, he said.
Markey will introduce this bill when the new session begins in January, Armstrong said.
Since 2006, the assembly has passed the bill four times, but it has never come to a vote in the state Senate, Armstrong said.
The bill was never introduced to the state Senate floor because the Republican Party controlled it. In the last two years, no Republican senator was willing to sponsor the bill in the Senate, he said.
In February, Davis and Lang, along with their attorney, Gloria Allred, appeared at a press conference in the Legislative Office Building to support the Child Victims Act.
At the press conference, Davis said in a prepared statement that, due to his own personal experiences with abuse, he feels it’s essential that this bill become law because it would protect children.
“Children should be our main focus because they are innocent and vulnerable,” Davis said. “Because of my personal experience, I feel that the current law does not protect the victim, but instead protects the abuser.”
Having the one-year window would give Davis and Lang the opportunity to “file a lawsuit and to see justice,” Allred said in a statement to The Daily Orange.
William Fitzpatrick, district attorney for Onondaga County, publicly stated that he believes the allegations brought forth by Davis and Lang are credible, but the statute of limitations prevents him from prosecuting their case, Allred said.
Fitzpatrick could not be reached for comment.
“We believe that perpetrators of child sexual abuse should not be able to abuse the trust of victims and then hide behind the statute of limitations,” Allred said.
Armstrong said he is confident the bill will pass because the Democrats will have control of the state Senate in the new session. Many have already pledged to support the bill and make sure it comes to the floor for a vote.
“The assemblywoman’s view is that it is inevitable that this bill will be passed in both houses sooner or later,” Armstrong said. “The Democrats are the best hope for this bill.”
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