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Bill Would Extend Time to Charge Molestation

August 07, 2003|Nancy Vogel | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — People molested as children would have until they turn 30 to seek prosecution under a bill proposed Wednesday by a San Diego lawmaker.

The announcement by Assemblywoman Christine Kehoe (D-San Diego) is a direct response to a U.S. Supreme Court decision in June that invalidated hundreds of charges and convictions in sex offense cases in California. The high court declared unconstitutional a 1994 California law that allowed prosecutors to file charges in sex abuse cases in which the statute of limitations had already expired.

"Victims and law enforcement should be given as much time as necessary to pursue these heinous crimes against children," said Kehoe, whose draft legislation will be sponsored by Gov. Gray Davis, Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer and the California District Attorneys Assn.

Under current law, prosecutors have 10 years after child molestation occurs to file charges.

"Children are often too frightened, confused and traumatized to tell family or authorities they were molested, especially when the abuser is an adult they trusted," Lockyer said. "This measure will reassure victims, who show tremendous courage by reporting those long-ago crimes, that their attackers will be brought to justice and will never be allowed to hurt other innocent children."

Laurence E. Drivon, a Stockton attorney overseeing civil litigation in more than 300 cases of sexual abuse, most involving Catholic priests, said even the age of 30 is too young for most people to come to terms with sexual abuse.

"The level of emotional maturity that's required to deal with this in a way that allows these people to break the secret is commonly not obtained until people are in their mid-30s to 50s," said Drivon.

Kehoe said she will introduce the bill when the Legislature reconvenes Aug. 18.

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