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CNN Today

DNA Evidence Throws Doubt on Statute of Limitations for Sex Crimes

Aired February 24, 2000 - 1:33 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: In most states, sex crimes can only be prosecuted for a certain number of years after the alleged attacks, and the same is true of most other crimes short of murder. But in this age of DNA, genes can be captured and preserved much longer than most other forms of evidence.

CNN's Deborah Feyerick looks at what that means for the statute of limitations.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Inside this freezer are more than 10,000 boxes, one for each reported rape in New York City in the last dozen years. Inside the boxes, crime-scene evidence: semen, saliva, blood, the rapist's entire genetic blueprint. But for more than 2,000 victims represented here, time is running out.

SUSAN HOWLEY, NATIONAL CENTER FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME: If you have DNA evidence, scientific, conclusive evidence that this is the person who has committed the crime, then there's really no reason to maintain a statute of limitations.

Nearly every state has a legal time limit in which to prosecute sex crimes, but now many lawmakers are debating whether to extend or do away with that limit. The reason: DNA databases around the country are only now processing genetic information, comparing it to DNA taken from prison inmates and convicted felons.

New York's statute of limitations on thousands of cases is about to expire.

GOV. GEORGE PATAKI, NEW YORK: There is now statute of limitations on suffering, there is no statute of limitation on anguish, there should be no statute of limitation on justice.

FEYERICK: Already, three states -- New Jersey, Nevada and Florida -- have eliminated their statute of limitations on rape. California is considering extending its limits from six to eight years, too late for this rape victim who learned her attacker's name only after time was up.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm still alive. There should be no limitation. I'm still walking. I'm still available to testify. FEYERICK: Science has had a dramatic and immediate impact on solving crimes. In England, 800,000 DNA samples have been put into databases. The results, say some, have been astounding.

HOWARD SAFIR, NEW YORK POLICE COMMISSIONER: Since 1995, they have solved over 75,000 crimes using DNA. They're getting 500 to 700 crime-scene matches every week.

FEYERICK (voice-over): Proof positive for victims of sex crimes that changing the statute of limitations could bring them one step closer to justice.

Deborah Feyerick, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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