Would this proposed bill change the current state of the law? Not a whole lot – since State v. Burdick (2012), the Tennessee Supreme Court has allowed arrest warrants against “John Does,” with no more identification than the gender and biological information of a suspect. In that sense, courts have been charging John Does to get around the time limitation anyway. Does a John Doe warrant put a defendant on notice to prepare against a case and obtain witnesses against a potential charge? Of course not.
There will of course be people who say, “Well if you don’t want to be accused of rape, then don’t rape people.” This flawed thinking assumes that every person accused is guilty, while the reality is that some people bring false claims and others bring a well-intentioned claim that misidentifies the culprit. This bill would allow for an alleged victim to accuse another person of raping them nearly three years after it happened, and then twenty years later, that person could be expected to defend against the claim. At that point, witnesses have moved, died, or can’t remember anything anymore. There might not be any physical evidence to support the case, and the entire trial is a credibility battle between two people. This is absurd.
Others say, “Well, I trust that the prosecution will exercise good discretion in bringing the right cases even if they are old, so let’s give them the unfettered ability to pursue the cases that they like.” America is supposed to be a government of laws and not of men – we are supposed to be a society that lives according to the rule of law, not the rule of prosecutorial discretion, which is subject to political pressure and discriminatory enforcement.
What are the policy arguments for statutes of limitations, anyway? People are acting like statutes of limitations are a legal loophole for guilty defendants, but time limits exist in federal and state law for both civil and criminal cases. Statutes of limitations were put in place to ensure swift prosecution, to provide the best possible memories, testimony, identifications, and put a defendant on notice to defend. If all of those positive things result from swift prosecution, loosening the restrictions will result in less accurate results.
No one wants rape victims to be time-barred from obtaining justice, but we also don’t want the wrong person to be convicted either, and we must understand that these results are on the opposite ends of the spectrum. Let’s stop making excuses for sloppy police work and refrain from giving an indefinite pass on criminal prosecutions.