LANSING, Mich. (AP) - The Michigan Senate voted unanimously Tuesday to eliminate or lengthen the statute of limitations for filing charges in sexual misconduct cases, endorsing changes to a law that supporters said has barred justice for victims who were abused as children.
The legislation, which was sent to the House for consideration next, would allow a prosecution at any time for second-degree sexual conduct if the victim was younger than 16 at the time of the alleged offense. In cases of third-degree sexual conduct, the statute of limitations would rise to 20 years after the crime or the victim's 31st birthday, whichever is later.
The existing deadline for second- and third-degree sex misconduct cases -- which is punishable by up to 15 years in prison -- is 10 years after the offense or the victim's 21st birthday, whichever is later.
There already is no statute of limitations for first-degree sex misconduct, which can result in life imprisonment. An exception in current law allows sex misconduct charges to be brought after the deadline has expired if DNA evidence is obtained later.
The bill sponsor, Democratic Sen. Steve Bieda of Warren, said he has heard "heart-wrenching" stories from a number of victims who waited too long to tell authorities about being abused.
"You ask them, `Well why didn't you bring it forward at this time?"' he said. "Well, `I was afraid or I was still living at home or I was still in this situation where this person who was the perpetrator had some sort of power over me.' ...Michigan as a state's going to stand for justice and is going to stand on the side of the victim in these situations."
Bieda noted how women came forward after seeing a 2016 newspaper report of allegations against a sports doctor who treated female gymnasts at Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics. Dr. Larry Nassar pleaded guilty to possessing child pornography and is awaiting trial on separate 1st-degree criminal sexual conduct charges, in addition to being sued by more than 125 women who claim he sexually assaulted them under the guise of treatment.
The legislation is supported by prosecutors, the state police and advocates who oppose domestic and sexual violence. The association of criminal defense lawyers is neutral on the measure.