Actor Danny Masterson and the statute of limitations

Actor Danny Masterson (primarily known as Hyde on "That 70s Show") has been convicted of rape. 

Specifically, he was convicted of raping adult women in his home, women who were in their 20s at the time. And he has now been sentenced for it.

Thirty years to life.

That's a heck of a sentence.

The allegations surfaced in 2017 and 2018. The crimes – the alleged rapes, which he has completely denied - took place between 2001 and 2003.

We shouldn’t want to take his side. He's a Scientologist - a particularly offensive cult that has a huge amount of power in the Hollywood community. It is believed that Scientologist leadership coerced the victims into keeping quiet about it for years.  (Leah Remini was a noticeable presence in the courtroom to keep the public’s focus on the corrupt Scientology aspect of this case; we should certainly applaud her for her courageous work in exposing the evils of that cult).

As decent Americans, our gut reaction should normally be to cheer the conviction and punishment of a rapist.  We are rightly opposed to the repulsive worldview and proud depravity of many in Hollywood. Of course. This goes without saying.

But even so.... we're talking about a criminal prosecution, and a sentence of 30 years to life, for crimes that allegedly occurred fifteen years before the charges were even filed.

We hardly ever even put killers in jail for 30 years in America nowadays. We should, but we don't.

We haven’t prosecuted the Biden family (sorry for bringing politics into it, but it’s the perfect example) for blatant money-laundering of foreign bribe money even after 270 separate bank referrals to the FBI pleading for investigations.

Sam Bankman-Fried of FTX fame stole and destroyed billions of dollars, and became the second biggest donor to the Democratic Party, blatantly buying political influence on Capitol Hill, and the Federal Elections Commission decided not to bother with filing charges against him.

But we’re giving this actor a 30-year sentence for crimes a decade and a half earlier.  Not to say he doesn’t deserve it; maybe he does - but honestly, after twenty years, how do we know?

Here’s the fundamental issue:  

There are good reasons for our society to have statutes of limitations on crimes.

A fair trial requires - yes, the word is requires - promptness, as close to the event as possible, both so that witnesses and evidence are fresh and trustworthy, and so that if the person is guilty, he can be put away before he does more damage to society.  Before he violates any further victims.

Trying somebody for rape 15 or 20 years after the event makes a mockery of the justice system, because it not only doesn't protect the rights of the accused, but in particular, because it fails to protect all the other potential victims during those intervening years.

Think of the burglar making the rounds in a neighborhood.  Call the police on him tonight, and you stop him for robbing dozens of other houses.  Postpone the report 20 years, and he might have robbed hundreds more in that time. It’s the same with rape. It’s the same with murder. It’s the same with embezzlement. It’s the same with any crime. 

The longer you postpone the report, the more you stop being a victim and you turn into an accessory to their future crimes, by enabling the criminal to run free when you could have stopped him.  It may sound cold, but silence is assent.

Society should be telling people - universally - if you're a victim of a crime, report it right away so that we can get that villain off the streets. Now.

A victim – of any crime, not just rape - doesn’t just report the criminal for revenge.  A victim should report the criminal immediately, not just for vengeance, but as his or her personal duty to society, to protect others from being victimized as he or she was.

The prosecution of Danny Masterson - and other cases like it - undermine that very need for speed that is so critical for the security of the American citizenry.

There are exceptions, yes.  Some crimes, such as treason, certainly should have no statutes of limitations. But these exceptions should be as rare as possible, because the reasons listed above are still applicable to every case.  Evidence needs to be collected, witnesses’ memories need to be fresh, the accused deserves his day in court, no matter what the crime.

But this modern cancel culture's trend of throwing out the very concept of time limits (or rewriting them retroactively), denying the good reasons we’ve always had them - allowing the state to happily charge and prosecute people for alleged abuse decades after the fact, when evidence and witnesses are long gone - runs completely counter to the bedrock principles of the American system.

In the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution, a “speedy trial” is specifically required. Like so many other aspects of the modern American Leftist movement, this change too is therefore blatantly unconstitutional.

I hope and pray that some courageous attorneys and politicians start fighting these prosecutions on constitutional and criminal justice grounds, and get the courts to again commit themselves to an honest respect for statutes of limitations.

It may feel uncomfortable to look like one is "defending a rapist."  But this is the only way to protect all those 15 or 20 or 30 years of potential and real victims.

Justice postponed is justice denied – for a host of reasons, not just one.

John F. Di Leo is a Chicagoland-based international transportation professional and consultant.  A onetime Milwaukee County Republican Party chairman, he has been writing a regular column for Illinois Review since 2009.  His book on vote fraud (The Tales of Little Pavel) and his political satires on the current administration (Evening Soup with Basement Joe, Volumes I and II) are available on Amazon.

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