Connecticut's nickname is the Land of Steady Habits. Perhaps its time to change the moniker. The State is poised to jump feet first into the front ranks of the lunatic fringe.
Legislation proposed by two central state Democrats would eliminate any statute of limitations for the filing of civil suits alleging sexual misconduct. It's not as though the state has a tight limitations period under the current regime. An alleged victim has until they are 48 years old to bring a claim of childhood sexual abuse.
State Sen. Mary Ann Handley, D-Manchester, and state Rep. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, don't think that's long enough. They want an alleged victim to be able to bring a claim at any time.
"It's a very lonely kind of abuse," Handley said. "It's a kind of abuse that people try to forget, try to ignore."
Such long statutes of limitation are an invitation to injustice. Don't recall what you were doing ten, twenty or thirty years ago? Let your niece or nephew, together with a bevy of so-called experts on delayed disclosure, incremental disclosure and recovered memories help you recall.
I recently tried a criminal case in which the alleged victim claimed to have been abused ten years before the trial. There was no physical evidence to corroborate her claim. While the case was pending, the accusations cascades from mere touching to cunnilingus. By the time of trial, experts were on hand to explain why it was all so perfectly plausible that the memories were late in taking shape. Of course, the jury was kept from hearing information about the sexually charged atmosphere in which the child was reared -- her father was barred from the home for a time to got to a sex addiction center.
Statutes of limitation serve important purposes. We expect claims to be raised in a timely fashion or not to be raised at all. People have lives to lead beyond the trauma they suffer. And defendants have rights, too. It simply doesn't square with justice to haul someone into court thirty years after the alleged facts and have them give an account of themselves. How do you defend if you have absolutely no idea what the so-called victim is talking about?
Handley and Bye are dead wrong. They're body-suffering in the wake of sex offender hysteria. Lawmakers ought to be narrowing, and not expanding, the manner in which ordinary folks are plucked from their lives and dumped unceremoniously into legal catastrophe.
Here's legislation much needed:
o No person claims to have been sexually abused ought to be permitted to raise a claim beyond a five year statute of limitation unless there is either another witness or physical corroboration of the claim. To do otherwise is to throw open the courthouse doors to folks seeking all sorts of secondary gain from their claims. (I once read a letter seeking admission to a college from a person claiming to have been abused years earlier. It remains unclear what scholarly acumen that portends.)
o Rape shield laws ought to be relaxed in cases in which plaintiffs or victims bring claims beyond a five-year statute of limitations. Clearly, a person who wants to claim the trauma of an ancient event has been marked by many experiences. Let the jury determine whether the testimony offered is fact or a fanciful accretion of a lifetime of hurt.
o If a party seeks to rely on recovered memory or incremental disclosure testimony, the evidence code ought to be amended to permit liberal admissibility of other sources of sexual tension in a victim's home. It is wrong to permit a jury to hear only the memories a victim claims to have recovered, but not other sources of sexual tension and shame that could well remain buried at the time of trial but to which it is reasonable to believe the child was exposed.
The law of sex offenses is a mess. We are in love with every claim of victimhood, but blind to the new class of victims created daily in our courts. Who speaks for those accused based on little more than fantasy? What protections do these men and women enjoy?