Sex crime cases shouldn’t have time limits

If they can escape justice for 20 years after sexually assaulting someone, rapists in Ohio are home free. Their victims are not.

A statute of limitations in the Buckeye State bars prosecutions for rape more than 20 years after the offense was committed. Even if police and prosecutors know with a certainty the identity of a rapist — and can prove it in court — the predator cannot be punished.

While some victims of sexual assault manage to move on with their lives, many remain haunted by what happened to them. Some report the scars run so deep that they are unable to carry on normal relationships. Others say fear of being assaulted again is with them all the time.

Gov. Mike DeWine, Ohio’s former attorney general, has called for the statute of limitations on rape to be lifted. This week, current Attorney General Dave Yost and several of his predecessors issued the same plea.

“The profound invasion of the person makes rape like no other crime — a violation of the body, the mind and soul,” the current and former attorneys general wrote in a letter to leaders in the General Assembly. “We now know that the trauma associated with a rape has a lifetime impact on a survivor,” they added.

Some opponents of rescinding the statute of limitations argue that passage of decades after a rape is committed could lead to innocent people being convicted. Evidence, including exculpatory information, can be lost. Witnesses can be difficult to find, their memories may have faded, or they may have passed away.

But investigative tools have improved enormously during the past couple of decades. DNA is one example. It can convict a rapist — or exonerate someone accused wrongly.

And as Yost and his predecessors noted, the standard for conviction remains proof of guilt. No matter how many years have passed since a rape, juries will insist on being convinced by the evidence.

Ohio legislators should eliminate the statute of limitations on rape. Allowing vicious predators to run out the clock on their crimes is unfair to both their victims — and their potential prey.

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