A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision highlights a tragic flaw in our criminal justice system that must be fixed by lawmakers.
McGirt v. State of Oklahoma isn’t the culprit in the Thursday dismissal of rape charges against a Tulsa man. The outrageously short statute of limitations on rape is the reason this case may never see the inside of a courtroom.
The high court ruled in McGirt that the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s reservation never was disestablished by Congress. The Supreme Court decision means jurisdiction for certain criminal cases must be tried in federal — not state — courts.
Certain crimes committed by or against an enrolled tribal member within the boundaries of the Muscogee Nation must be tried in federal court.
The case against a Tulsa man, who was charged with five rapes in Muskogee, was moved to — and ultimately dismissed from — federal court.
The charges resulted from a series of rapes that occurred between 1993-1995. A federal judge ruled the federal statute of limitations of five years on rape charges had expired. The case may not have fared any better in state court because the statute of limitations on rape there is seven years.
That means this case probably won’t see a conviction.
That’s tragic. But to say the McGirt decision is the reason the charges were dismissed misses a major point. McGirt isn’t the problem. The attitude toward rape is unfathomable.
The statute of limitations on rape should not be as dismissive as five or seven years in the first place.
We would be willing to take the bet that a roomful of men decided the statute of limitations on rape. We also would be willing to take the bet that if rape victims were predominately men, the tolling of this statute would be extended.
Rape is a violent crime that can have everlasting effects. To say rapists can go unpunished after five or seven years is ridiculous. Rape survivors deserve to know American justice will do all it can to put their attackers behind bars no matter how long it takes.
There is a need for a statute of limitations — to keep courts from being clogged for years with essentially inconsequential cases. The distance between some crimes and a potential court date is too wide and should be capped.
The case that was dismissed here involved rapes committed 25 years ago. Twenty-five years wouldn’t have been enough. Let’s start the discussion at 50 years.
But, really, let’s just make it simple for lawmakers — there should be no statute of limitations on rape. That way McGirt would have had no effect.
We should not target McGirt as the problem here. We should look to fix the real issue — a ridiculously low limitation on rape.