AUGUSTA — The Maine Senate on Tuesday approved a bill that would extend the state’s statute of limitations on sexual assaults from eight years to 20 years.

The measure, if approved by the House and signed by Gov. Janet Mills, would put Maine more in line with other states’ sex crimes statutes. The Senate passed the bill without debate.

“Only three other states have shorter statutes of limitations than Maine,” Sen. Erin Herbig, D-Belfast, the bill’s sponsor, said during a public hearing on the bill in April. “Several states have removed them entirely for felony level sex crimes, allowing victims to come forward whenever they are ready.”

Opponents to the bill included the Maine Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys.

“It is difficult enough as it is now to defend against allegations that occurred some eight years ago,” the association’s executive director, Tina Nadeau said in written testimony to the Legislature. “Trying to look back some 20 years for evidence that would show your innocence of a crime that occurred 20 years ago is nearly impossible.”

Nadeau also said that Maine law allowed victims to pursue civil lawsuits with no statute of limitations.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine also opposed the bill on similar grounds.

“By eliminating the statute of limitations entirely or extending it as far as 20 years, a person could find themselves practically without the ability to defend themselves because all exculpatory evidence is gone,” wrote Megan Sway, an attorney with the ACLU of Maine.

Sway also said it was important for lawmakers to recognize the criminal justice system can be susceptible to error, resulting in convictions of innocent people.

“Sex crimes provoke strong emotions, as do allegations of sex crimes,” Sway said, noting that the consequences of being convicted of a sex crime are very harsh, and include imprisonment, parole, residency restrictions and sex offender registries.

Supporters of the bill, including Whitney Parish of the Maine Women’s Lobby, said one in five Mainers is a victim or a survivor of sexual assault with the vast majority of those survivors women. She said a result of the #Metoo movement is that more and more victims were willing to come forward, but Maine’s current law often prevented justice from being served.

“Just as with cases of child sexual abuse, we need to begin to reckon with the stigma, shame, intimidation and trauma that keep survivors from coming forward,” Parish said in her written testimony before the committee.

The bill,  L.D. 67, will face additional votes in the House.

The House on Tuesday also passed legislation that would increase the minimum time that evidence from forensic examination kits must be stored from 90 days to eight years. That measure will face additional votes in the Senate.

 

 

filed under:

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.