California Gov. Jerry Brown signed historic legislation Wednesday, making California one of many states without a statue of limitations for prosecution of rape or sexual assault.
The legislation comes after it was revealed that comedian Bill Cosby, who was accused of serial rape over a period of decades, could not be prosecuted in California and several other states because the statute of limitations had expired for his victims there.
All told at least 58 women have come forward to accuse Cosby of criminal sexual activity. He is currently being prosecuted in Philadelphia on charges that he drugged and raped lesbian massage therapist Andrea Constand in 2004.
Prior to the passage of California's Justice for Victims Act, state law limited the prosecution of a felony sexual offense to 10 years after the offense was committed. If DNA evidence could be found, a victim could be granted additional time, according to State Sen. Connie Leyva, who introduced the legislation, also known as Senate Bill 813.
"Governor Jerry Brown's signature of SB 813 tells every rape and sexual assault victim in California that they matter and that, regardless of when they are ready to come forward, they will always have an opportunity to seek justice in a court of law," Leyva said in a statement on her website. "Rapists should never be able to evade legal consequences simply because an arbitrary time limit has expired."
The law, which comes into force January 1, will prevent a statute of limitations on future crimes, but it is too late for Cosby accusers like Lilli Bernard, who came forward 20 years after the comedian allegedly attacked her. Bernard campaigned for the California law, bringing a box of evidence she saved in connection with her case to many state senators, which may have helped the bill gain the broad bipartisan support it had.
Upon passage of the legislation, Sen. Leyva thanked Gloria Allred, a noted women's rights attorney who represents 33 of Cosby's accusers, "for fighting to make sure that all rape victims regain their voice and legal rights not just in public, but also in the courtroom."