A man walks into a police station and confesses to a rape committed more than five years ago. But the statute of limitations has passed, so he cannot be legally charged with a crime.
He walks free.
In Indiana, this scenario is not only plausible – it actually happened.
The IUPUI campus police last week issued a report saying a former IUPUI teaching assistant walked into the Marion County Sheriff‘s office downtown and confessed to raping a student back in 2005, saying his guilty conscience had been weighing on him.
The 39-year-old man, now living in Carmel, will not face rape charges because Indiana’s statute of limitations is five years.
Indiana University Maurer School of Law Associate Professor Ryan Scott says the rationale behind statutes of limitations is a combination of repose for the perpetrator – the assurance that someone cannot be prosecuted for a crime after a certain number of years – and decreased accuracy of evidence over time.
But Scott says this particular case falls far outside those criteria.
“He walks into the station and confesses to the crime, there’s no doubt of his guilt, there’s no question of reliability of evidence,” Scott says. “He’s ready to confess to the crime.”
And because he is willing to be punished for his crime, he is not seeking the legislative offer of repose.
“So this is a case where the statute of limitations is not serving its intended purposes,” Scott says.
In Indiana, aggravated rape is defined by the use of a deadly weapon or serious physical injury to the victim and is considered a Class A Felony, for which there is no statute of limitations.
But rape without those circumstances is considered a Class B Felony. The statute of limitations on rape in Indiana is five years – meaning, even if a perpetrator confesses to a crime six years after it happens, he cannot be legally charged with a crime.
Indiana Coalition Against Sexual Assault CEO Anita Carpenter says for victims of rape, knowing their attacker walks free only reinforces psychological and emotional trauma.
“It can be devastating emotionally and mentally for somebody to have to have worked themselves up to a point where they feel, they’ve got the courage and they feel empowered enough to come forward and then find out, okay, so now they can’t do anything with it,” Carpenter says.
Other states, including neighboring Ohio, are revising their statute of limitations on rape.
The new Indiana criminal code the legislature passed last year classifies felonies from 1 to 6. The code classifies rape as a Class 3 Felony, but does not address its statute of limitation.