The emotional stories of women who say they were sexually assaulted more than a decade ago by Bill Cosby prompted California state lawmakers to approve a bill to eliminate the state's 10-year limitation filing rape and related charges.
On Wednesday, Gov. Jerry Brown announced that he has approved the legislation to revoke that limitation.
Beginning next year, the bill will end the statute of limitations in certain rape and child molestation cases. It will also end the time limit on older cases in which the statute of limitations has not yet expired.
The new law, SB813, will not, however, help women who made allegations against Cosby dating back more than 10 years, including some from the 1960s.
Cosby has repeatedly denied the sex abuse allegations made by dozens of women nationwide. He is facing just one criminal case stemming from sex abuse. A trial is set to begin in June in Pennsylvania.
Defense lawyer Angela Agrusa has said Cosby's accusers have stirred passions even though their stories of abuse have not been investigated by police.
California lawmakers sent the statute of limitations bill to Brown without a single dissenting vote.
State Sen. Connie Leyva, D-Chino, credited intense lobbying of lawmakers and the governor by advocates who "kept the fight alive for the countless rape victims that have already spoken up and also those that have yet to come forward."
The bill's signing "tells every rape and sexual assault victim in California that they matter and that, regardless of when they are ready to come forward, they will always have an opportunity to seek justice in a court of law," she said in a statement. "Rapists should never be able to evade legal consequences simply because an arbitrary timelimit has expired."
Seventeen other states already have no statute of limitations on rape, according to the California Women's Law Center.
In June, Colorado doubled the amount of time sexual assault victims have to seek charges from 10 to 20 years, a decision also prompted by the Cosby allegations. Nevada extended its time limit from four to 20 years last year after testimony by one of Cosby's accusers.
Advocates say victims may need years before they can bring themselves to make an allegation to law enforcement. Several women said during a spring legislative hearing on the California bill that they did not come forward sooner because they were traumatized or afraid no one would believe them.
However, if they wait 10 years, victims find "the door to the courthouse is slammed in her face," said high-profile Los Angeles attorney Gloria Allred, who represents 30 women who say they were sexually assaulted more than a decade ago by Cosby. None can bring criminal charges because the time limit has expired.
Civil rights groups and public defenders countered that extending the time limit could lead to false convictions as evidence disappears and memories fade among victims and witnesses. They say it's not fair to expect a suspect to recall an alibi decades later.
It could even be counterproductive, California Public Defenders Association representative Carolyn George argued, because the time limit encourages victims to come forward and investigators to move quickly.
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