PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — House lawmakers voted Wednesday to approve a bill that would eliminate the statute of limitations for second-degree sexual assault cases.
The legislation, titled “An Act Relating To Criminal Procedure — Indictments, Informations And Complaints,” is backed by the R.I. Attorney General’s Office and would eliminate the three-year statute of limitations for the crime. If the bill were to be signed into law, second-degree sexual assault cases would be exempt from the statute.
The bill passed unanimously on the House floor, and now heads to the R.I. Senate for consideration.
“This [three-year statute] has proved impossible for many people to come forward and for the Attorney General to prosecute,” Rep. Carol Hagan McEntee, one of the bill’s sponsors, said on the House floor Wednesday.
Hagan McEntee, D-Narragansett noted that the bill is backed by Attorney General Peter Neronha.
Neronha said the three-year statute is “far too short” during his monthly interview with 12 News on Tuesday.
“It’s having an impact on some of the cases we’re doing,” Neronha told 12 News.
When the bill went before the House Judiciary Committee back in April, Steve Dambruch of the AG’s criminal division called it a “simple fix for a significant problem.”
Current Rhode Island law exempts first- and second-degree child molestation, as well as first-degree sexual assault, from the statute of limitations. This means if person came forward years after they claim to have been victimized, the crime could still be prosecuted.
“Certainly, we have to go through the process, we have to prove our case beyond a reasonable doubt, but at least we have that opportunity on behalf of that victim,” Dambruch told the House Judiciary Committee in April.
“It’s a difficult process to come forward,” he added.
Second-degree sexual assault, defined as the sexual touching of an individual without their consent, currently has a three-year window where victims 14 and older can step forward.
As Dambruch pointed out in his testimony, the age of the victim could change the nature of the case. For example, a victim could be 13 years old and a day or two away from their 14th birthday when the alleged crime took place.
“So that 14-year-old, who may be in a difficult family or other circumstance that prevents him or her from coming forward, could be significantly prejudiced by that,” Dambruch said.
Companion legislation was introduced to the Senate Judiciary Committee in March, but a hearing on it had not been scheduled yet.