Jessica wrote a couple of months ago about the Hidden Problems in the Hidden Predator Act. This may surprise a lot of you, especially her, but I agree with Jessica.
Often the worst legislation is made of the best intentions. This is one of those times.
People who do harm to children, especially those who do so as sexual predators, have committed the worst of atrocities. They get little sympathy, nor should they. These crimes carry a stigma in perpetuity.
The problem with HB 17 is that it tilts the scales of justice in ways that open the entire process for abuse, without necessarily protecting victims. Really you say? Let’s explore.
This bill essentially ends the statue of limitations on these crimes. The reason that these limitations exist in the first place goes directly to the right of a fair trial. As noted, these crimes are among those with the highest long term stigma. As such, the accusations of these heinous crimes often produce the public perception of guilt. The accuser must often then try to prove themselves “innocent”.
As Jessica points out:
35 years from the age of 18 is a long time. That’s age 53. And that’s assuming that the assault happened during the late teen years. For those who became victims at an even younger age, memories could be dating back 50 years. No offense to my older friends but depending on whether or not a criminal case produced a conviction, I have a hard time believing the case could be adequately assessed with little to no evidence other than “he said, she said.”
If an accusation is made in a reasonably timely manner, one falsely accused would likely be able to produce evidence that may exonerate him/herself. But decades years later? Good luck even trying to remember the events of a particular year, much less the minute details that often determine guilt or innocence.
Let’s note that since Jessica wrote her piece in February, the bill has been amended so that the age limit is now 23 years and the only test is two years from the time plaintiff discovered or should have discovered the abuse. The problem of the statute of limitations being suspended for an untold number of years still applies and is in fact magnified because they may not technically discover the abuse had occurred for 30 years or longer, but the 35 year window no longer expressly applies in the bill.
From there, the door opens wider. Wide enough that it can reach all the way into our pocket books.
With the statue of limitations vacated, the potential for civil liability increases exponentially. The alleged perpetrator isn’t the only one on the hook. This bill is about civil damages. In short, this bill is about expanding the amount of people that can be sued.
HB 17 permits negligence claims against any legal entity whose employee or volunteer owes reasonable care to the supervision of children. Employers, School boards, churches, civic groups and others would be open to claims from those who recently “remembered” they were abused decades ago. Think false claims of this nature so a “victim” can profit don’t happen? Tell that to people like former Falcon Brian Banks. Now imagine allowing people to go back up to 30 years to manufacture these claims.
We should always have the greatest sympathy to those who have been the victims of abuse. This extends to those who are still coming to terms years or even decades after the fact. Those who commit these crimes deserve swift justice and criminal punishment. Nothing in HB 17 would change this.
Instead, HB 17 has the potential to be a vehicle for even greater abuse. One that allows the courts to be a tool, and extortion of the innocent to be a new business model for the unscrupulous to prey upon the innocent. HB 17 as written is little more than an opportunity for victims to be preyed upon and abused by those who would use the legal system for a stream of new contingency fees.