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Lawmakers consider dropping statute of limitations for rape cases

State lawmakers are considering a bill to eliminate Ohio’s statute of limitations on rape and sexual battery so that victims and prosecutors may seek justice in rape cases that occurred more than 20 years ago.

State Sen. Nina Turner, D-Cleveland, who is sponsoring the bill, said, “Aside from being just plain good public policy, Senate Bill 83 will accomplish three things: empower the victims of these horrible crimes, assist law enforcement in bringing criminals to justice and help keep our communities safe.”

She added, “It is a well-known fact that the impact of sexual trauma lasts a lifetime and certainly does not fade after only 20 years.”

The bill has the support of Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, whose office runs the BCI&I crime labs. But Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys’ Association lobbyist John Murphy said his group will only back the bill if it includes a requirement that DNA evidence be used in sexual assault cases that are more than 20 years old.

Turner said she doesn’t want to include a DNA requirement. “I think that’s doing an injustice to the victim,” she said.

Turner said 28 states do not have a statute of limitations for prosecuting rape cases.

In recent years, Ohio has seen biological evidence retained from long-ago rapes match DNA profiles collected from inmates and arrestees. In some of those instances, the rapes occurred more than 20 years ago so criminal charges could not be pursued.

The Miami Valley Regional Crime Lab has seen three such instances within the last five years, said Denise Rankin, the lab’s assistant director. The lab got DNA hits matching three men to three female rape victims who were attacked in 1987 and 1990, she said.

The Miami Valley Regional Crime Lab has retained evidence in cases dating back to the 1980s. Rankin said if the statute of limitations on rape is dropped, the lab would look for DNA matches on hundreds of cases from before 1993.

“I think that would be a great idea given some of the old cases we have looked at,” Rankin said. “…We would definitely get with our detectives and agencies and see what we could do with those cases.”

Ohio has made national headlines with the Steubenville rape case and allegations of kidnapping, rape and long-term imprisonment of three women in Cleveland. State Sen. Capri Cafaro, D-Hubbard, a co-sponsor of the bill, said the time is right for reform.

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