Sentencing and policies regarding different crimes change and evolve for all kinds of reasons. New lawmakers, shifts in attitudes toward crimes, or even single events have all led to policy changes within the criminal justice system.
In Colorado, a single person recently became a catalyst for a big change in how sexual assault cases are handled. Who am I talking about? None other than Bill Cosby.
Most well-known for his comedy and beloved TV show, for the past few years Mr. Cosby has returned to the national conversation for a far darker reason. Since 2015, dozens of women have come out publicly, accusing the actor of various forms of rape and sexual assault. One of those women is Beth Ferrier of Colorado, and her actions have helped to shape Colorado’s policies on sexual assault.
About 30 years ago, Ferrier met Mr. Cosby and attended his show in Denver. After drinking a cappuccino he gave her, she woke up in the back of her car with her bra unhooked, alone. When over 30 women came forward to speak against Bill Cosby in 2015, Ferrier and Heidi Thomas, another Colorado resident who accused Cosby of drugging and assaulting her more than 30 years ago, told their stories as well.
The two also decided to take action against Colorado’s current laws regarding sex crimes.
Fighting the Statute of Limitations for Sex Crimes
Beth Ferrier and Heidi Thomas are not able to take any legal action against Cosby after coming forward. This is due to Colorado’s statute of limitations, or the time window after a crime committed in which a person can be accused for that crime.
In 2015, Colorado’s statute of limitations for rape and sexual assault was 10 years. Heidi Thomas alleged that she was assaulted in 1984. Under Colorado law she had until 1994 to come forward and accuse Cosby of his crimes.
But Ferrier felt that this was unfair. For many victims of alleged assault, it takes time to come forward and talk about their experiences. So she and Thomas campaigned to lift the statute of limitations for sexual assault and rape in Colorado. In July 2015, Colorado representative Rhona Fields sponsored HB1260, eliminating the 10-year statute of limitations for felony sexual assault.
Supporters of lifting the statute of limitations for felony sexual assault argued that it belonged among the other crimes that did not have a statute of limitations in Colorado, including:
- Any sex offense against a child
Their initial efforts were rejected.
However, they did bring a lot of attention to the issue. After HB1260 was postponed indefinitely, state senators John Cooke and Mike Johnston drafted legislation that would increase the statute of limitations to 20 years.
This legislation was passed, and signed into law in June 2016. The law went into effect on July 1.
Since it is not retroactive, it only applies to incidents happening after July 1, 2016. Which means that while Cosby is still facing time in jail for other instances of sexual assault, he will not be tried in Colorado for his alleged offense in 1984.
What These Changes Mean for Colorado Statute of Limitations Laws
Statutes of limitations were put into place to protect rights. They are a recognized way of maintaining judicial order and expedience. But now that Beth Ferrier and Heidi Thomas have been successful in their campaign to change the statute of limitations for sexual assault, others may follow in their footsteps.
It is possible that we may seem more people advocating for statute of limitations reforms in the coming years. And if more changes occur, it could greatly alter the legal landscape and criminal law.
But that’s just speculation. Right now, the changes mean one thing: there is more time for alleged victims of felony sexual assault to come forward.
For the time being, current statutes of limitations for other crimes all remain the same:
- Aggravated incest: 10 years
- Bribery and abuse of public office: six years
- Vehicular homicide: five years
- Other felonies: three years
- Misdemeanors: 18 months
- Class 1 & 2 misdemeanor traffic offenses: one year
- Petty offenses: six months
What the actions of Beth Ferrier and Heidi Thomas do teach us is that statutes of limitations are not immutable. They can be increased or even eliminated altogether.
Bottom line: the law is always changing, and if you are charged with a crime, you need someone on your side who makes it a point to stay up-to-date with all the latest wrinkles.
About the Author:
Kimberly Diego is a criminal defense attorney in Denver practicing at The Law Office of Kimberly Diego. She obtained her undergraduate degree from Georgetown University and her law degree at the University of Colorado. She was named one of Super Lawyers’ “Rising Stars of 2012” and “Top 100 Trial Lawyers in Colorado” for 2012-2016 by The National Trial Lawyers. Both honors are limited to a small percentage of practicing attorneys in each state. She has also been recognized for her work in domestic violence cases.