Friday, August 5, 2016

COMMENTARY IN THE NEWS: Bill gives victims better chance of justice

By Connie M. Leyva and Michael A. Ramos

Over 30 years ago, a young woman was kidnapped and violently raped in a nearby Southern California county. Though there was no known suspect for many years, a suspect was finally identified through a DNA hit, which gave the survivor hope that the rapist would finally be held accountable.

Unfortunately, by the time the rape kit was tested and the suspect identified, the statute of limitations on rape had run out — which is only 10 years in most cases in California.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, only two in 100 rapists will be convicted of a felony and spend any time in prison. The other 98 percent will never be punished for their crimes. The fact that the vast majority of rapists will never see the inside of a prison cell is motivation enough for us to fight against this gross injustice and finally change this California law once and for all.

As the author and co-sponsor of the “Justice for Victims Act,” we fundamentally believe that justice for rape victims should never have an expiration date. Senate Bill 813 would correct this longstanding injustice by preventing rapists and sexual predators from evading legal consequences simply because of a seemingly arbitrary statute of limitations. It’s simple: Survivors of sexual assault should always have the ability to seek justice in a court of law, even years after the alleged crime was committed.

Prosecutors would still have to meet the very high burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt in order to convict and send a rapist to prison. This bill would simply offer survivors more time to come to terms with the horrible crime committed against them, summon up the courage to reach out to authorities and then give prosecutors the time necessary to collect and prepare evidence in advance of filing formal charges against the assailant.

SB 813 is currently in the final stages of its legislative journey and will then hopefully — in the coming days — reach Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk where he will consider signing the bill into law. The “Justice for Victims Act” has earned strong bipartisan support in both the Senate and Assembly, with many legislative coauthors and committed supporters strongly backing the measure. We thank California Women’s Law Center Executive Director Betsy Butler, women’s rights attorney Gloria Allred, Assemblyman Mike Gipson and countless other supporters for standing squarely on the side of justice for victims.

SB 813 solidly reinforces California’s commitment to standing with women, as they represent the vast majority of rape and sexual assault survivors. It also clearly articulates our obligation to promote public safety, protect our neighborhoods and communities and ensure justice for all. This bill has provoked strong passions and many tears along the way, but all with the ultimate hope that SB 813 will finally right this wrong that has shut the doors of justice in the face of far too many rape victims in years past.

As elected officials representing the Inland Empire, we both remain committed to fighting for safer homes and communities — and the “Justice for Victims Act” is a vital part of creating a more responsive and just legal system that fights to protect the rights of victims across our great state. State Sen. Connie M. Leyva, D-Chino, represents the 20th Senate District. Michael A. Ramos is San Bernardino County district attorney; he is president of the National District Attorneys Association and is one of three members appointed by the governor to the California Victim Compensation Board.

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