Comedian Bill Cosby may or may not ultimately face justice for the sex crimes he has allegedly committed since the 1960s, but two of his accusers have won a different victory here in Colorado. Beth Ferrier, 57, of Denver, and Heidi Thomas, 56, of Castle Rock, lobbied aggressively to extend Colorado’s statute of limitations in rape and sexual assault cases. After a year-long effort, they succeeded, and Gov. John Hickenlooper signed the bill on June 10.

The new statute of limitations in rape and sexual assault cases, a response to the Bill Cosby rape allegations, doubles the statute of limitations to twenty years in Colorado. However, the statute is not retroactive, so Ferrier and Thomas will not be able to file charges against Bill Cosby in Colorado, but the women – both allegedly assaulted by Cosby in the 1980s – hope the new legislation will encourage more victims of rape and sexual assault to come forward, even ten or fifteen years later.

The legislation was sponsored by State Representative Rhonda Fields of Aurora, Senator John Cooke of Greeley, and Senator Mike Johnston from northeast Denver. “What we know is the path for survivors of sexual assault is uphill already,” Johnston told reporters after the governor signed the bill. “Justice is already elusive for victims of sexual assault. It makes no sense for Colorado to close the doors on those people who have the courage to try to seek it and say you can’t have your day in court.”

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In the 1980s, Ms. Ferrier and Ms. Thomas were both employed as models with the Denver talent agency JF Images. Both say they were drugged and then sexually assaulted by Bill Cosby. Ms. Ferrier told reporters, “For me this is from this day forward, making sure that those one in four women come forward, and those one in seventeen men come forward. Do not keep this a secret, and don’t stay silent, and don’t become depressed, and don’t do all the things that come with being a victim of sexual assault.”

WHY WAS THE NEW LEGISLATION NEEDED?

Neither woman reported the incidents when they happened because they feared that challenging Cosby would negatively impact their careers, they said. They both also said that they had been in denial about the assaults. Advocates of the new legislation contended that a longer statute of limitations is proper in such cases, because victims often need years to deal with the psychological impact of sexual assault before they gain the confidence to come forward.

Heidi Thomas, who was unable to attend the signing ceremony at the governor’s office due to family commitments, told reporters, “We are very proud of this bill, and we are very excited that it was able to pass in one year. I’m very proud of our legislators for seeing what really needed to be done. Hopefully, they see that this is one step of the process, but for right now we are going to celebrate.”

Bill Cosby has been the subject of sexual assault allegations for nearly two decades. Cosby has been accused by more than fifty women of rape, drug-facilitated sexual assault, sexual battery, and sexual misconduct going back to the mid-1960s. He has denied the allegations. Most of the actions alleged by Cosby’s accusers now fall outside the statutes of limitations for legal proceedings. Numerous civil lawsuits against Cosby are still pending, and he still faces one felony charge of aggravated indecent assault in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.

WHAT SHOULD YOU DO IF YOU ARE ACCUSED OF A SEX CRIME?

A number of sex crimes are against the law in the state of Colorado. Clearly, no one wants to be convicted of a rape or a sexual assault charge. Apart from the very real consequences of a sex crime conviction – fines, prison, and lifetime sexual offender status – a convicted sex offender will also lose the trust of his or her friends, family, and colleagues, and may even have difficulty finding employment or housing.

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For anyone who is charged with a sex crime in the state of Colorado, it is absolutely essential to retain the services of an experienced Denver criminal defense attorney who can protect your legal rights while defending you against the charge. Never try to act as your own lawyer, and never plead guilty or even answer any questions without having a Denver criminal defense attorney present. Sometimes the accusation of a sex crime can be completely discredited, and sometimes the charge can be reduced, but a winning defense in a sexual assault case will always require the skills of an experienced defense attorney.

WHAT ARE COLORADO’S PENALTIES FOR SEX CRIMES?

The penalties for each sex crime in Colorado vary based on a number of “aggravating” factors that can increase a perpetrator’s criminal responsibility: for example, the perpetrator used a deadly weapon to force submission, the perpetrator used a date rape drug to force submission, or the victim suffered serious bodily injury. These are the charges and penalties that a sexual assault suspect can face in Colorado:

  1. Class 1 misdemeanor: This is the charge when a victim of sexual assault is between 15 and 17 years of age and the alleged perpetrator is ten or more years older. If convicted, a defendant faces from six to eighteen months in jail and a fine from $500 to $5,000.
  2. Class 2 felony: This is the charge if the victim sustained serious physical injury, if more than one person aided or abetted in the alleged assault, or if a deadly weapon was used. Those convicted of the Class 2 felony charge face eight to twenty years in prison, years of parole after the prison term, and a fine from $5,000 to $1 million.
  3. Class 3 felony: This is the charge when a victim is both physically helpless and non-consenting, or when violence, injury, pain, death, kidnapping, or retaliation is threatened or actually take place. Penalties for a Class 3 felony conviction include four to sixteen years in prison, years of parole after the prison term, and a fine from $3,000 to $750,000.
  4. Class 4 felony: Any sex crime that does not fall into one of the three other categories can be prosecuted as a Class 4 felony. Those convicted of a Class 4 felony face two to eight years in prison followed by a three-year parole period and a fine ranging from $2,000 to $500,000.

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By: Dan Murphy

Denver criminal defense lawyer Daniel M. Murphy provides clients in the Denver area with aggressive and sympathetic legal representation. He graduated from the University of Denver Law School in 1994 and worked as a public defender before starting his own practice in 1996. He has defended clients accused of the most difficult criminal and alcohol-related charges. He also serves as a Moot Court Judge for Denver-area law students who rely on his mentorship.