Here’s Why Bill Cosby Will Probably Get Away With What He (Allegedly) Did

Bill Cosby

It seems like every day another woman comes forward with a claim that Bill Cosby sexually assaulted her. But because all of the alleged incidents apparently occurred so long ago, if Cosby did in fact commit such heinous acts, he may be able to get away with it without facing legal consequences.

Why does it matter how long ago the alleged sexual assaults occurred?

Most of the time, for a person to face legal consequences for his actions, the legal process must begin within a certain time period (the unnecessarily complicated legal term for this is the “statute of limitations”). After this time limit expires, the perpetrator is generally free from any legal punishment or enforcement. (But there is no time limit for prosecuting murder.) One big reason for time limits is that after many years, memories of an incident fade, and the evidence for an offense is considered too unreliable for legal action against someone.

The time limit varies depending on the crime or offense, and can vary from state to state. In California, a person can be prosecuted for rape within 10 years of committing the crime, except if the victim was under 18 at the time, in which case the perpetrator can be prosecuted up until the victim turns 28.1Cal Penal Code Sec 801.1

None of the women have accused Cosby of raping them within the last 10 years, and though some of the women claim they were abused before the age of 18, none are younger than 28. Cosby has never been charged with a crime, and because all of the claims are too old, none is likely to lead to any charges. However, that isn’t stopping the LAPD from investigating the incidents, even though they are aware they probably can’t prosecute Cosby. What’s the point of this? Maybe to bring more facts to light to solidify a conviction in the “court of public opinion.”

So is that it? Cosby gets away with it?

Not necessarily. So far we’ve only discussed the potential criminal cases against Cosby. But like many offenses, sexual assault can be treated as both a crime and a “civil offense,” meaning that the victim can usually sue the perpetrator for money.

A person who is raped or otherwise sexually assaulted can often sue for the civil offense called “sexual battery” (defined in California as touching the intimate part of another person without consent2California Civil Code Sec 1708.5). Civil offenses also have time limits for enforcement. In California, the time limit to sue for sexual battery is generally 2 years,3California Code of Civil Procedure Sec 335.1 unless the victim was under 18 at the time, which provides for two exceptions: the victim can bring the claim before turning 26 OR within 3 years of “discovering the psychological injury.”4Cal Code of Civil Procedure Sec 340.1(a)

The second option generally is for cases in which the victim suppresses the memory of the incident, but then it surfaces later in life. This is exactly what one woman is claiming in her lawsuit against Cosby. She says Cosby sexually assaulted her in 1974, when she was just 15. Whether a court will accept the claim of recent discovery of her psychological injury is an open question, but similar claims have been successful.

On the other hand, Cosby’s lawyers are apparently very good.

Featured Image: creative commons licensed (BY) flickr photo by World Affairs Council of Philadelphia: http://flickr.com/photos/wacphiladelphia/6343681999

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