California vows to prosecute all rapists, no matter how long ago their crimes occurred. But that may not apply to Joseph James DeAngelo, who police are fingering as the long-sought Golden State Killer.
Before September 2016, the statute of limitations in California for rape and sex crimes was just 10 years.
After dozens of women came forward to accuse Bill Cosby of sexual assault decades earlier, state lawmakers passed a measure that year eliminating the statute of limitations for rape and sex crimes. Cosby was convicted Thursday of sexually assaulting a woman in 2004 in Pennsylvania and faces up to 30 years in prison.
“Rapists should never be able to evade legal consequences simply because an arbitrary time limit has expired,” state senator Connie Leyva, who wrote the measure, said when the law passed. “There must never be an expiration date on justice.”
However, that change likely will not impact the Golden State Killer — believed to have committed 12 murders and about 50 rapes in the 1970s and 1980s — because it does not apply retroactively, according to Laurie Levenson, a professor of law at Loyola Law School. In other words, the revised law applies only to crimes committed after January 1, 2017, and offenses for which the statute of limitations had not expired by that date.
DeAngelo, 72, was arrested Tuesday and already faces several murder charges, which do not have a statute of limitations. He is set to be arraigned Friday.
There are unlikely to be individual rape charges against him unrelated to those murders, Levenson said.
“Rapes that resulted in murders, there is no statute of limitations for the murders,” Levenson said. “I think it’s an open question whether we’ll see independent sexual assault charges, but you’ll certainly see them if they were part of the murder.”
There is one caveat to the 2016 law, however. Exceptions can be made in rape cases if new DNA evidence is found later. Authorities used discarded DNA evidence from his home to arrest DeAngelo, Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones said Wednesday.
In any case, the capital murder charges will be more important to DeAngelo’s prosecution than the statute of limitations for rape.
“I don’t think it’s gonna matter at all,” Levenson said. “You can only get so many death penalties.”