Hundreds of accused child molesters in California will escape prosecution under a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that overturned part of a California law that allowed abuse chargues to be filed many years after the fact.
The San Jose Mercury News says that by ruling that the 1994 law could not be applied retroactively, the high court ified hundreds of cases around the state, including numerous convictions and dozens of high-profile charges that have been brought against Roman Catholic priests in the past year.
The 5-4 ruling was condemned by state prosecutors and left some molestation victims in tears, even as it drew praise from defense attorneys who said the court had protected an important constitutional right for anyone accused of a crime. “What’s heartbreaking is we’ve got to pick up the phone and try to let the victims know before they read it in the newspaper,” said Karyn Sinunu, a Santa Clara County prosecutor.
Defense lawyers felt differently. “It really struck me as being fundamentally unfair to pretend the statute of limitations never existed,” said Roberto Najera, the lawyer for a child molestation suspect in Contra Costa County.
The ruling may block federal efforts to expand prosecutions under anti-terrorism laws. The U.S. Justice Department had argued that the case could affect parts of the USA Patriot Act, which eliminated the statute of limitations for some offenses.