Attorney General Lockyer, Sen. Dunn Urge Governor to Sign Bill Restoring Victims' Right to Sue Child Molesters
Senate Bill 1678 Provides Civil Recourse for Adults Victimized as Children
(SACRAMENTO) – Attorney General Bill Lockyer and Sen. Joseph Dunn, D-Santa Ana, today urged Gov. Schwarzenegger to sign legislation that restores the ability of adult victims to sue the sex offenders who molested them as children if the offenders criminal cases were dismissed or convictions overturned because of a year-old U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Stogner v. California.
"As a result of the U.S. Supreme Court's Stogner decision last year, hundreds of child molestation victims are left with no recourse against the predators who abused them," Lockyer said. "This bill will provide needed civil relief to those who were sexually abused as children and then re-victimized when their molesters were freed of criminal liability by the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling."
SB 1678, sponsored by Lockyer and authored by Dunn, provides victims of child molestation with an additional year, beginning January 1, 2005, in which to file a civil cause of action against child molesters if the criminal case against the perpetrator was dismissed or overturned by the high court's decision in Stogner v. California.
"This important bill will provide an opportunity for a particularly aggrieved class of victims to receive redress through the judicial system and relief from their pain," Dunn said.
In its June 2003 ruling in Stogner, the Court said California cannot retroactively apply its 1994 landmark law, which allowed child molesters to be criminally prosecuted up to a year after the assault was reported, even if the crime occurred years ago. The law was narrowly drafted, and applied only to crimes that involve substantial sexual conduct, and those in which there is "independent evidence that clearly and convincingly corroborates the victim's allegations. The law also required submission of corroborating evidence that would be admissible during trial, and may not include the opinions of mental health professionals.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that retroactively applying the law to child molesters as to whom the statute of limitations had expired before the law went into effect in 1994, was unconstitutional. Because the statute of limitations is, generally, six years, child molestation that occurred prior to 1988 could no longer be prosecuted under the California law. As a result, hundreds of molesters, some who had confessed their crimes, were released from prison, and charges against others were dismissed.
Stripped of criminal recourse, adults who were molested as children before 1988 also were prohibited from filing civil lawsuits because the statute of limitations for civil actions had expired years ago.
Under a 1990 law by then-Senator Lockyer, a civil action for injuries resulting from childhood sexual abuse can be brought until the victim reaches the age of 26 or within three years of the time he or she discovers, or reasonably should have discovered, that adult-onset psychological injuries or illnesses were caused by the childhood sexual abuse, whichever is later.
For many victims, those civil statutes of limitations had long passed. However, they could rely on another statute, which allows for civil actions to be brought within one year after a felony conviction has been obtained.
With the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Stogner, hundreds of victims lost not only their opportunity to see their molesters convicted, but also to file a civil suit based on that conviction
"Even if molesters can't be prosecuted for older cases, they still can be exposed, parents can be warned, and children can be protected," said Mary Grant, executive director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP). "This bill provides a narrow but sorely needed remedy for men and women who were sexually violated as children, and then re-victimized when their molesters walked away from criminal prosecution and conviction."