Boyer: Arizona's Statute Of Limitations For Child Sex Abuse Is The Worst In The County

By Daniel Perle
Howard Fischer, Capitol Media Services
Published: Monday, May 27, 2019 - 8:01am
Updated: Monday, May 27, 2019 - 10:28pm
Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services
Paul Boyer in 2019.

The arrest of a priest in Arizona on sex abuse charges out of Michigan could lend fuel to legislative efforts to expand the time that victims in this state have to sue their assailants.

Timothy Crowley, 69, was one of five former Catholic priests who Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said are charged with various counts of criminal sexual conduct. She said all five are part of an investigation by her office into reports of clergy abuse which go back decades.

The news comes as Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Phoenix, is trying to convince colleagues to scrap existing Arizona laws which say that victims here have only until they turn 20 to file civil suits.

Boyer told Capitol Media Services he can't say whether Crowley and other priests accused of incidents of sexual abuse were purposely moved to Arizona because of what he sees as the limited ability of those who are abused and assaulted here to file civil actions.

"I'm not going to get into motivations,'' he said. "But I've read enough news pieces where I know that particular organizations have moved around 'troublesome'' employees to Arizona,'' Boyer said.

He said that is no surprise, given the current state of Arizona laws. 

"Here's the deal: If you want to get high regularly, you move to Colorado,'' Boyer said, where purchase and use of marijuana is legal," Boyer said. "If you want to sexually assault children, you move to Arizona because the statute of limitations is the worst in the country."

Republican legislative leaders have offered to take the age to file out to 30.

But Boyer said that isn't enough. He said it ignores the fact that the average victim does not report what happened, whether due to embarrassment or emotional issues, until he or she is in their 40s.

One of Boyer's several proposals would have given individuals seven years to file suit after reporting an incident to a medical professional. When that failed to gain traction, Boyer said he would accept a hard-and-fast age limit — but at age 55.

His latest plan would accept a younger age, but with a one-year "window'' for filing new lawsuits by those who have been the victims of sexual abuse in the past but for whom the age limit already has passed. He said it is necessary "to expose sexual predators today and to protect kids in the future — and now.''

Some of the opposition is coming from GOP lawmakers who say they fear that a wide-open statute of limitations could result in an organization facing a lawsuit decades after an incident — and decades after that individual or priest is no longer around. Sen. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, one of the key foes, said that could make it impossible for these groups to mount a meaningful defense, as both witnesses and records are gone.

Boyer brushed aside those concerns, saying that the burden is on the person making the accusations to prove that the incidents occurred.

Foes of Boyer's plan also have offered to revamp laws that take advantage of the fact that there is no statute of limitations on filing criminal charges against those who rape or abuse children. It would allow a civil suit to be filed once there is a criminal case, no matter how many years after the incident occurred and regardless of whether the person was convicted.

Boyer said that's not much help.

He said that makes sex abuse victims dependent on a decision made by a prosecutor. He added that prosecutors are likely to pursue cases only where they believe they can convince a jury "beyond a reasonable doubt'' that the crime occurred.

By contrast, he said, a civil case is governed by laws requiring a plaintiff to make the case only by a "preponderance of the evidence,'' essentially allowing a jury to decide whether it's more likely than not that the incident occurred and that the defendant is liable.