Dennis Hastert seemed to be the quintessential American success story. A wrestling coach and schoolteacher from the suburbs of Chicago, he went into politics, rising all the way up to become the Speaker of the House of Representatives. He was third in line to the presidency while Bill Clinton and George Bush were in office, and was the longest-serving Republican House Speaker in history.
Yet, according to some claims Dennis Hastert had a secret that nobody knew about. Before he became a legislator, some allege that a beacon of family values had betrayed the position of trust that he enjoyed at Yorkville High School. So much time had passed since his transgressions of thirty or more years ago, that when they first came to light it was already too late to hold him legally accountable for his actions, even if they occurred with under-aged boys.
Understanding the Law in Illinois - Statutes of Limitations
The reason why the former Speaker was not tried for allegations of sexual abuse has to do with the statute of limitations for these offenses. Interestingly enough, the controlling factor is not the dates of the abusive acts, but the age of the person who is seeking relief. The current law in Illinois states that a victim has twenty years from the time they turn 18 to file a claim for damages against their abuser or, in the case of repressed memories, five years after they discover that abuse has taken place.
Notice that the age of the accuser is the relevant factor, and not when the abuse took place. Under the law those claiming abuse must be willing to come forward and name their abuser, and admit to the abusive acts occurred.
In this case, Scott Cross, for example, was 53 years old when he testified about the actions of Coach Hastert. The statute of limitations had long expired, and there wasn't any way for him to bring legal action against Hastert.
The addition of an extra five-year period opens up the possibility of claims being brought after a victim's 38th birthday has passed. Attorney General Lisa Madigan has proposed eliminating the statute of limitations for crimes of this nature, but this would require legislative action.
This issue is an example of the myriad of rules that affect criminal law cases. No two cases are the same, and it is critical that everyone accused of a crime be given a fair chance to defend themselves. Claims made decades after the alleged incidents often place the defendant at a advantage as they try to muster evidence to show their innocence. Issues like the statute of limitations are one way that the rights of criminal defendants are protected.
Contact a Chicago Criminal Law Attorney
If you, or someone you love, has questions about the statute of limitations in this regard, contact the Chicago criminal defense attorneys at Barney & Hourihane to arrange for a consultation.