Sexual Assault Allegations During the #Metoo Movement

The Bill Cosby trials mark an unquestionable shift in the legal landscape for sexual assaults. He is the first celebrity to actually be convicted since the rise of the #metoo movement. The jury’s decision to convict Mr. Cosby on 3 counts of aggravated sexual assault against one victim, Andrea Constand, was a message that even “America’s Dad” was not too big to fall. Mr. Cosby at 80, now faces up to 30 years in prison. If he ever gets out, he’ll spend the rest of his life in sex-offender treatment.

The big question for the American Criminal Justice System is whether Bill Cosby’s conviction signals a change that all victims of sexual assault are going to be seen as more credible? Has the #metoo movement changed the outlook of the American public in that more sexual assault prosecutions will result in a higher percentage of convictions? Obviously, it is an impossible question to answer based on the conviction of one person or the view of one jury.

The statute of limitations for sexual assault cases in Colorado is 10 years if the assault was prior to 2016. If the crime took place in 2016 or later, the statute of limitations is 20 years. There is no statute of limitations for cases involving children.

Despite the long amount of time that people have to report sexual assault, it doesn’t mean that reaching an actual conviction for sexual assault is easy. Sexual assault cases can be exceptionally difficult to prosecute because years and decades can go by where evidence fades, and memories can change. From a defense perspective, these cases are challenging as well because the media will often crucify a suspect even if there is strong evidence of innocence. These are difficult situations where the public opinion about a case and the credibility of the accuser is crucially important.

What is clearer is that the #metoo movement has made no target too big to accuse. More and more celebrities, politicians, and successful business people face accusations of sexual assault and sexual abuse. The effect of these accusations, if not seen in the criminal justice system, is seen in shows being cancelled, people being fired, and elections being lost. It is seen in tarnished reputations. It is seen in civil lawsuits, which aren’t tied down with the same high standard for convictions that criminal cases hold. The effect is also seen in an increase in high profile prosecutions, as seen most recently with charges filed against Harvey Weinstein.

But just because high-profile prosecutions are up, doesn’t mean that public opinion has shifted. It doesn’t mean that the #metoo movement is done. Bill Cosby may just be the first domino to fall.

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