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Utah Child Sex Abuse Case Could Overturn 2016 Expired Claims Law

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Summary: An ongoing sexual assault case will challenge the legality of trying crimes that are several decades old in civil court.

Last year, Terry Mitchell sued retired judge Richard Roberts. She said that in 1981 the then-27-year-old prosecutor repeatedly forced sex on her when she was a 16-year-old witness in one of his cases.


The sexual assault case is now at the center of a legal fight over how sex abuse cases are handled in Utah, Buzzfeed said. This case will determine whether or not victims of old alleged crimes can actually pursue justice in the state decades later.

Roberts admitted to having “intimate” relations with Mitchell, but he denied her accusations that he had forced himself on her or took advantage of her young age.

“Roberts acknowledges that the relationship was indeed a bad lapse in judgment,” Roberts’ defense lawyers said.

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But Roberts’ biggest defense is that Mitchell has missed the legal window to sue in civil court. His lawyers challenge a 2015 decision by Utah lawmakers to eliminate the statute of limitations for civil child sex abuse claims and a follow-up 2016 law that applied to expired claims against individual perpetrators.

Proponents of the 2015 and 2016 laws said that they are necessary to protect adult victims, but critics said that it is unfair for defendants to litigate decades-old charges as many witnesses have died or evidence has disappeared. According to Buzzfeed, The Catholic Church has reportedly tried to block other states’ efforts to revive expired claims.

Mitchell’s attorney Ross “Rocky” Anderson of Lewis Hansen told Buzzfeed that the Utah law in question must not be removed in order to give child abuse victims justice.

“It has tremendous significance in terms of allowing victims of child sexual abuse to hold their perpetrators to account under the law within a reasonable period, taking into account that it oftentimes takes decades for victims to be able to deal with these matters and finally confront their perpetrators,” Anderson said.

Mitchell is represented by Anderson and Roberts is represented by Brian Heberlig of Steptoe & Johnson LLP in Washington, DC.

The statute of limitations on sexual assault cases vary from state-to-state, and Utah is one of eight states to remove those statutes in child sex abuse civil cases. Other states typically start the expiration clock once the victim turns 18.

Utah also is one of eight states to allow expired claims to be revived. Their 2016 law states that plaintiffs can bring expired cases against their alleged abusers 35 years after their 18th birthday.

“Beginning with the Boston Globe story about the coverup in the [Catholic] church, there has been this push to figure out what to do about all those victims shut out by unreasonably short statute of limitations,” Marci Hamilton, CEO of Child USA, said to Buzzfeed.

According to Child USA, a victims’ rights group, the majority of states do not have a time limit for child victims to file criminal charges.

Source: Buzzfeed

What do you think of Utah’s laws that are being challenged in this case? Let us know in the comments below.





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