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New child sex abuse law is unconstitutional

On Behalf of | Jul 17, 2023 | Child Abuse, Sex Crimes |

The state Supreme Court unanimously ruled on June 20 that a 2021 law called Child Sexual Abuse Accountability Act (CSAAA) was unconstitutional. State lawmakers designed the law to hold abusers and their enablers accountable as victims come forward years after the abuse. The 2021 law opened a three-year window to file sexual abuse cases alleged to occur between 1960 and 2022. However, the judges determined that the law violates constitutional protections where new laws cannot apply to older acts.

Associate Justice Monica Marquez wrote in a 35-page opinion:

“We certainly understand the General Assembly’s desire to right the wrongs of past decades by permitting such victims to hold abusers and their enablers accountable, but the General Assembly may accomplish its ends only through constitutional means.”

The case

Angelica Saupe sued the Aurora Public Schools and coach David O’Neill, alleging that O’Neill abused her while working as her basketball coach at Ridgeview High School between 2000 and 2004. She said the coach (who was 20 years older) began grooming her for sexual exploitation when she was 14. She also claimed that she was forced to perform oral sex more than 100 times over four years (often on campus) before she graduated.

At age 20, Saupe reported O’Neill to the Aurora police in 2007 but did not file a report because the police erroneously told her that the claim was time-barred due to Colorado’s statute of limitations. Since 1993, the state has had a law that allows victims six years to come forward. CSAAA attempted to waive the statute of limitations to support younger victims who may wait years to come forward.

Ex post facto does not apply

While the federal judicial system allows criminal cases that involve retrospective allegations to be tried, Colorado and several other states do not allow retrospective civil law, which Saupe’s case was. There were other CSAAA that are now on hold.

Saupe deserved her day in court, but holding individuals legally liable long after the fact is a slippery slope that diminishes the Constitutional protections that all Coloradans enjoy.