The Springdale, Arkansas, investigation into child sexual abuse allegations against reality TV star Josh Duggar allegedly ended in 2006 because authorities believed the three-year statute of limitations had expired. That's according to the Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette and In Touch Weekly, which first reported the existence of a police report documenting the abuse allegations. But an expert on child sex abuse laws tells msnbc that there would have been no statute of limitations bar that would have prevented criminally prosecuting Duggar at the time, though the window has since closed.
Duggar -- who was once the executive director of the Family Research Council -- issued an apology and resigned from his job amid reports that he molested underage girls when he was a teenager.
Marci A. Hamilton is a professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law who maintains a site on statutes of limitation for child sex abuse, and wrote a book, Justice Denied, on the topic. She points out that though the civil statute for child sexual abuse in Arkansas has a three year limit, the criminal statute had a much longer time frame. As she reads Arkansas law, "If it is reported when [the victim] is a minor, then they have seven years from the date of the abuse," Hamilton says. By her reading, that means the clock ran out on the Duggar allegations in 2013. "When it expires," Hamilton says of the statute of limitations, "it's over."
It is not clear why charges were not pursued following the forwarding of the police report to the juvenile prosecutor.
"As a public information officer, I cannot speak about that police report because it does not exist as far as we are concerned," said Scott Lewis of the Springdale Police Department. That's because the police report first posted by In Touch Weekly and obtained under a Freedom of Information Act has been expunged due to a judge's May 21 order. The Washington Post reported that the expungement came at the request of one of the alleged victims. Lewis said he had no further information about the statute of limitations determination, which he said would have been made by the juvenile prosecutor to whom the police forwarded the report.
Many states have recently moved to expand their criminal or civil statutes of limitations, including Arkansas. The state's criminal code was amended in 2013, with the most serious sex crimes, including sexual indecency with a child, first- and second-degree sexual assault, and incest, having no statute of limitations. Lesser charges, beginning with sexual assault in the third degree, can be reported until the victim turns 28, unless there is a report to law enforcement, in which case, Hamilton says, a seven year clock is started.
“Up to the age of the victims being 28, there could be criminal prosecution."'
Caroline Lewis, an Arkansas-based attorney at the Brad Hendricks Law Firm, told msnbc that prosecutors likely took into account the age of the alleged offender when deciding whether to pursue charges. Josh Duggar is now 27, and was accused of fondling the breasts and genitals of five young girls in 2002 and 2003, when he was 14 and 15 years old.
In order to pursue a new investigation in any case of this nature, Scott Lewis said, "We would have to have a victim come forward. Because right now, as it stands, there is no police report to prosecute."
The alleged victims have not spoken out publicly. Several members of the Duggar family have issued statements, including Josh Duggar, whose apology says, "We spoke with the authorities where I confessed my wrongdoing and my parents arranged for me and those affected by my actions to receive counseling." But the police report, which details several interviews, does not contain any information about interviewing Josh, who would have been 18 at the time the report was filed. Msnbc was unable to reach the Duggar family for comment.
The Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette reported that "the case was sent to the Washington County prosecutor for review. Circuit Judge John Threet, a deputy prosecutor at the time, said he didn't recall the case but wouldn't be allowed under the law to comment on the matter even if he did." The In Touch story says, "Police had to abandon pursuing charges because the [then] three-year statute of limitations had expired."
According to the report, Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, Josh's parents, did not report an initial complaint from a child that Josh had inappropriately touched her, but rather "disciplined" Josh. The report says the first complaint was made in March 2002. During that time, Jim Bob Duggar was running in a Republican primary for the U.S. Senate against Tim Hutchinson, who prevailed. Hutchinson was a conservative Christian candidate who was on the defensive for getting divorced, and Jim Bob Duggar's father suggested his son entered the race because he felt Tim Hutchinson had not properly apologized for getting divorced.
Nine months after the first complaint, when more children complained that Josh Duggar had fondled them while they were asleep or, in some cases, awake, the Duggars told police they consulted the elders of their church about rehabilitation. Jim Bob Duggar told a police investigator they had concerns about one program because they felt their son "might be exposed to other offenders and other things they did not want him exposed to ... James said they found out about a Christian program in Little Rock which they felt more comfortable with.” Duggar claimed the program was run by a man named Harold Walker, “conducted by a Christian ministry in the old Veterans Hospital in Little Rock,” and “consisted of hard physical work and counseling” from March 17, 2003 until July 17, 2003.
But subsequently, Michelle Duggar told investigators that “it was not really a training center,” according to the report, and when asked if the person Josh talked to was a “certified counselor” Michelle Duggar said he wasn’t. “She said it was a guy they know in Little Rock that is remodeling a building. [The detective] asked if he was more of a mentor. She said 'kind of.'” The report ends with detectives leaving Jim Bob Duggar voicemails on December 20, 2006.
The report also says that the Duggars said their son had spoken with a state trooper identified as "Cpl. Hutchins, the state trooper who inspected car dealers."
Professor Hamilton says the reason that there are statutes of limitation on child abuse is because historically, “[t]he assumption was that if a child had been harmed and they didn’t tell anyone for three or four years, then that was fine. The more survivors that came forward, the more we learned.” Slowly, states have been changing their laws, but in pieces. “Now we have this hodgepodge of statutes across the country,” Hamilton says. She adds, “Once it’s expired, you’re out of luck. We have such short statutes of limitation, we can’t prosecute the vast majority of perpetrators right now.”