Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Rape Laws An Issue In Oregon Senate Race

From WSJ blog:

Democrat Jeff Merkley, who is trying to snatch incumbent Oregon Republican Sen. Gordon Smith’s seat, released two response ads today, punching back at attack ads that a Merkley spokesman called “the Willie Horton ads of Oregon” and the “sleaziest, slimiest smears we’ve ever seen.”

Smith’s ads, which accused Merkley of being soft on crime, linked two of Merkley’s votes in 2005 and 1999 in the Oregon House to the release of serial rapist Richard Gillmore.

In one of Merkley’s response ads, a law enforcement officer tells Gordon Smith to “knock off the sleazy campaign.” The “Broken Smith” ad highlights Merkley’s support of life imprisonment and doubling the statute of limitations for sex crimes.

If these ads can raise important issues in the minds of the general population of Oregon, such as the real impact of statute of limitations for rape has on when dangerous offenders are released, these ads are good. These are valid issues which politicians should have to face on the merits of their positions.

From Oregon hb2663:

Provides that statute of limitations is extended from six years to 12 years after commission of crime if defendant is identified on basis of DNA evidence after statute of limitations has otherwise run out.

Frankly, the best I can say about this doubling of the statute of limitations is it's better than nothing.

One of the problems is that if the police are seeking a serial rapist who has a set pattern and a good enough description of the rapist to know that there are no copycat rapists, and the police only have a good DNA sample from one case this change could allow a rapist IDed by DNA to escape prosecution for multiple rapes because those rapes happened more than 6 years earlier.

This improvement could still result in a known serial rapist being sentenced as if he weren't a serial rapist despite overwhelming evidence of that rapist's guilt in all those other cases. And if that DNA match is made after 14 years, the public is just flat out of luck. Or they must hope that civil commitments can do what the criminal justice system should have done.

If this is the best state Rep. Merkely can do I understand why Tiffany Edens, the victim of serial rapist Richard Gillmore, who escaped prosecution for 8 other rapes due to the statute of limitations, was willing to speak out against Merkely's record. If those other 8 rapes had been prosecutable, she wouldn't have had to fight the Oregon parole board and she wouldn't have to continue to worry that Gillmore will be released.

The situation she and many other rape survivors face are preventable situations. Politicians need to be acountable for not doing that prevention.

From Oregonlive:

In 1999, Merkley voted against a bill establishing life sentences for repeat rapists. He did vote for another version of the measure that would have allowed rapists given life sentences to apply for parole after 30 years. Canter said Merkley thought it made sense to at least consider releasing frail, elderly convicts.

The problem with the logic behind this rationale is that frail, elderly rapists can continue to rape even after they are placed in nursing homes. Their most likely victims will be among the most vulnerable. Also depending on the age of the rapist at conviction, that rapist might be far from frail 30 years later.

If being frail and elderly makes some violent criminals non-violent then this measure should have included murderers. Without the inclusion of murderers this measure was based on stereotypes which say that rape is caused by youthful hormonal surges. That's a dangerous belief.

Sen. Smith is listed as a co-sponsor of I-VAWA and is urging full funding of VAWA for 2009 so his current position on sex crimes doesn't contradict the message his ads send.

Based on Merkely's votes and his position related to rape prosecutions and sentencing, his claim that this is a Willie Horton ad are false. He's being called out for his position not being blamed for the crimes of serial rapist Gillmore.

My opinion is that if the prosecutors can prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt then those prosecutors should be allowed to do so to avoid the necessity for another legal fight with the parole board over their approval of the parole for a sex offender like Richard Gillmore. Politicians who prevent this from happening should expect to have their failure be the topic of political ads and voters decision-making processes.

Too often issues related to sexual violence are seen by politicians as a lower priority because their political success doesn't depend on them.

The statutes related to DNA evidence in rape cases varies by state. In some states DNA evidence changes the statute of limitations. Politicians in states with short statutes of limitations should start worrying if they don't try or succeed at lengthening or eliminating the statute of limitations.

Here's the ad featuring Tiffany Edens:

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 7:43 AM   0 comments links to this post


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