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Danny Masterson rape charges: What is the statute of limitations in California?

Actor Danny Masterson
Actor Danny Masterson has been charged with three counts of rape. Pic credit: © Imagecollect.com/Globe-Photos

Actor Danny Masterson has been charged with three counts of rape, the district attorney in Los Angeles announced yesterday.

The 44-year-old actor — who was previously fired from Netflix’s The Ranch after sexual assault allegations against him emerged — was arrested on Wednesday morning.

He was charged with raping three women at his home in Hollywood Hills, according to Deputy District Attorney Reinhold Mueller of the Sex Crimes Division.

It was also revealed that the DA’s office did not file sexual assault charges against him in two other cases, one because there was insufficient evidence and the other because the so-called statute of limitations relating to it had passed.

Masterson was reportedly released after posting a $3.3 million bond. He is scheduled for arraignment on September 18.

Masterson is accused of raping three women between 2001 and 2003

Masterson’s alleged crimes occurred in separate incidents between 2001 and 2003.

He allegedly raped his first victim, a 23-year-old woman, in 2001, while the second victim, a 28-year-old woman, was allegedly attacked in April 2003. The third alleged incident involved a 23-year-old woman he is said to have invited to his home in 2003.

The victims’ names have not been made public, but they released a statement to AP, thanking the Los Angeles Country District Attorney for “finally seeking criminal justice against Masterson.”

They added that they had faced “harassment, embarrassment and re-victimization” over the case but they were confident that the “the charges filed today are the first steps in this long journey of healing, justice, and holding those that victimized us accountable.”

Masterson faces a maximum sentence of 45 years to life in prison if convicted of the charges.

What is the statute of limitations for rape and sex crimes in California?

Because the alleged crimes Masterson is charged with took place almost 20 years ago, there have been questions raised (see here and here) about how they were brought considering California’s statute of limitations laws, and how they apply historically.

In a statement, Masterson’s attorney, Tom Mesereau, insisted that the actor was “innocent.”

“We’re confident that he will be exonerated when all the evidence finally comes to light and witnesses have the opportunity to testify.”

Mesereau added that Masterson and his wife were shocked by the charges over allegations that happened nearly 20 years ago.

“Obviously, Mr. Masterson and his wife are in complete shock considering that these nearly 20-year old allegations are suddenly resulting in charges being filed, but they and their family are comforted knowing that ultimately the truth will come out.”

The fact that the alleged rape incidents happened between 2001 and 2003 (17-19 years ago) has led to some confusion about the statute of limitations regarding rape in California.

California ended its statute of limitations on rape in 2016

A statute of limitations is a law which sets out a time period within which charges in a case have to be brought for them to be allowed.

For rape and sex crimes in California, this time period used to be 10 years — meaning that prosecution of a felony sex offense could not be started more than a decade after the alleged offense was committed.

However, California ended its statute of limitations on rape in a bill from September 2016, which came into effect on January 1, 2017.

The change was in part brought in after several women came forward to accuse Bill Cosby of sexually assaulting them several years before — but because of the statute of limitations their cases in California were not allowed to go ahead.

Under the change to the law, people accused of rape and sex crimes can now be prosecuted no matter how long ago their alleged offense occurred.

The new law does not apply retroactively

However, the new law applies only to crimes committed after Jan. 1, 2017, and to “crimes for which the statute of limitations that was in effect prior to January 1, 2017, has not run as of January 1, 2017.”

This means the changes do not apply retroactively if the statute of limitations, which applied in law at the time the alleged offense occurred, had passed.

Since Masterson’s first alleged crime occurred in 2001, it appears that statute of limitations for that would have expired in 2011 (before January 1, 2017), while the statute of limitations for the last alleged crime, which occurred in 2003, would have expired in 2013.

However, there are several caveats listed in the bill that allow for exceptions to the stated rule. It is uncertain which of the caveats are believed to apply in Masterson’s case.

However, the DA’s office obviously believed that the statute of limitations did apply in one of the other cases, which meant they declined to file charges in that case.

Masterson, who has been linked to the controversial Church of Scientology, is most famous for playing Steven Hyde in That ’70s Show as well Jameson “Rooster” Bennett The Ranch.

He is married to actress and model Bijou Phillips and they share a daughter.

John Thomas Didymus has worked as a writer since 2010. He has written for several sites including Screen Rant and WikiHow, and his articles have... read more
John Thomas Didymus

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