It’s been a bad couple of weeks for America’s Dad, Bill Cosby. In the past month, at least 20 different women have come forward to say that Mr. Cosby had sexually molested, drugged and/or sexually assaulted them in incidents dating back as far as the 1970s. Just this week the Los Angeles Police Department met with one accuser, who claims Cosby sexually assaulted her when she was just 15 years old.
Can Charges be filed in Decades Old Chicago Rape Case?
The alleged sexual assaults in the Cosby case happened decades ago and, if true, the majority went unreported. If a Chicago resident were to claim she was sexually assaulted 15 years ago, is it possible for criminal charges to be filed against the accused?
Illinois law imposes statutes of limitations on all crimes except murder. Statutes of limitations are time limits imposed on the prosecution, requiring him to file charges against the accused within a stated time period. If charges are not filed within the specified time period, they can never be filed.
Statutes of limitations vary among crimes (they are also different for claims filed in civil court, so when looking up statutes of limitations make sure you are reading the criminal code). For the crime of sexual assault, the prosecution must file charges within 10 years of the commission of the offense, provided the victim reported it to the police within three years of its occurrence.
For example, imagine a woman who was raped on March 20, 1995. If she reports the rape to the police any time on or before March 20, 1998, the prosecution has until March 20, 2005 to bring charges against the alleged perpetrator. If, however, the woman reports the rape to police on March 31, 1998, the prosecution cannot file charges, because the law required her to have reported the rape within three years of its occurrence.
If the alleged sexual assault occurred when the victim was under 18 years of age, the prosecution has 20 years from the date the victim turns 18 to file charges. So, if a child was raped July 7, 1975 at the age of 8, the prosecution has until July 7, 2005 to file charges against the accused. If the charge was for misdemeanor criminal sexual abuse, the prosecution has 10 years from the date the victim turns 18 to bring charges.
So depending on when the woman reported the sexual assault and her age when it happened, it is possible for charges to be brought for a sexual assault that occurred a decade, possibly even three decades, ago. However, the likelihood of success in such an old case is slim. Witness memory fades and, without physical evidence, such as a rape kit or other DNA evidence, the case would be nothing more than he said-she said, which is difficult to prove over such a long period of time.