A 46-year-old man alleging that Seattle Mayor Ed Murray molested him when the man was a minor is bringing a civil lawsuit against the mayor.
But even if King County prosecutors had wanted to push for criminal charges, Washington’s statute of limitations on sex crimes would have blocked them.
That’s because many felony sex offenses against a minor can’t be prosecuted after the victim turns 30 years old.
Others have just a three-year statute of limitations.
A group of state lawmakers has been trying this year to eliminate the statute of limitations on a host of sex crimes — including rape and child rape. So far, they’ve had limited success.
House Bill 1155 passed the state House by a 90-8 vote in early March, but stalled in the GOP-controlled Senate Law and Justice Committee. It has not received a public hearing and is unlikely to pass this year.
Even if approved, the measure wouldn’t apply retroactively, said the bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Dan Griffey, R-Allyn, meaning it wouldn’t affect Murray’s situation. The mayor denies the allegations.
Opponents of the measure say statutes of limitation can encourage people to seek prosecution while evidence and memories of sex crimes are fresh. That can end in more convictions.
The monsters that commit these crimes should have to look over their shoulders the rest of their lives. Just like the survivors have to carry this baggage forever.
State Rep. Dan Griffey, R-Allyn
Backers of Griffey’s bill contend criminal justice should always be on the table for the sex crimes identified in the bill, including child molestation, incest and sexual exploitation of a minor.
“The monsters that commit these crimes should have to look over their shoulders the rest of their lives,” Griffey said. “Just like the survivors have to carry this baggage forever.”
The Law and Justice Committee is chaired by Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, who said he is against Griffey’s measure in part because he has concerns over people getting fair trials after such a long time has elapsed.
“Witnesses die, memories become faulty over a period of time, and justice is not always served if you have unlimited” statute of limitations, Padden said.
He noted that he worked in the 2013 session to extend the statute of limitations on many child sex crimes to a victim’s 30th birthday.
Previously, the statute of limitations on child rape and other offenses ran out on a survivor’s 28th birthday. The same bill extended a three-year deadline for prosecuting sexual exploitation of a minor and other sex offenses.
Seattle attorney David Donnan said an unlimited statute of limitations creates “an unreasonable expectation” that victims can “delay as long as they feel” in reporting a sex crime. He said the criminal justice system is not “appropriate” for sex offense cases 20 to 40 years old because evidence can decline over time.
“The system is just not made to evaluate those claims when they get that old,” said Donnan, who testified against Griffey’s bill in the House this year on behalf of the Washington Defender Association and Washington Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
He said a measure that creates certain exceptions to the statute of limitations, such as a case with credible DNA evidence, may be a better approach.
Witnesses die, memories become faulty over a period of time, and justice is not always served if you have unlimited ... statute of limitations.
Sen. Mike, Padden, R-Spokane Valley
But state Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines, said she doesn’t believe the legislation would “delay people seeking justice,” it just keeps the option available if victims do wait to come forward.
Orwall is a cosponsor of Griffey’s bill.
“People do it when they feel their voice can be heard, that they’ll feel supported,” she said. “That could be in any point in the process.”
Some prior opposition to eliminating the statute of limitations on many sex crimes has faded this year. The Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys once opposed the concept, but has been neutral on this year’s measure.
Tom McBride, the group’s executive director, said prosecutors still want to incentivize people to report child sex crimes and other sex offenses quickly, and expect the measure would affect few people.
But he said new technology such as digital recordings can keep credible evidence for a long time, helping prosecutors in decades-old cases.
Currently, murder and certain homicides are among the few crimes not subject to a statute of limitations.
Griffey said he will continue to push his bill if it doesn’t pass this year.
He and Padden said they would be open to a compromise, perhaps by making the measure apply to fewer sex crimes.
For now, Griffey said the lack of progress in the Legislature is frustrating.
“This is one of the crimes we’re going to dig our heels in and and say that this is one we won’t tolerate,” he said.