DENVER (AP) — When Angelica Saupe was 20, she went to police to report that she was sexually abused by her high school basketball coach as a teen but said she was wrongly told that it was too late to pursue criminal charges against him.
She got another chance to pursue her claim last year after state lawmakers allowed childhood victims of sexual assault to sue their alleged abusers and employers. But now, the Colorado Supreme Court is considering whether the law violates the state constitution.
The court’s justices heard arguments Tuesday from a lawyer representing Saupe as well as Aurora Public Schools, which Saupe sued under a law that took effect last year that opened up a three-year window for people to pursue litigation for sexual abuse they suffered as children dating as far back as 1960. The law is part of a national effort to make it easier for victims to seek justice later in life after they have had time to come to terms with what happened.
Are retrospective laws constitutional in Colorado?
At issue is whether that law violated the state Constitution’s ban on passing laws that are retrospective — changing the rules to address actions that have already happened. A lower court judge ruled that it did, dismissing Saupe’s lawsuit. Saupe appealed that ruling.
The school district’s lawyer, Stuart Suller, said recognizing that the constitution places limits on the kinds of laws state lawmakers can pass does not show disrespect to the survivors of childhood sexual abuse.
“The General Assembly can do many things. But what it can’t do is take the legislative priorities of 2022 and transport them back in time onto conduct that occurred during the final year of the Eisenhower administration,” he told the court’s seven justices.
Saupe’s lawyer, Robert Friedman, said a 1993 state law changed the statue of limitations to allow victims to file claims within six years after realizing that they had been abused, rather than just six years after they turned 18. The subjective nature of when that time limit would be reached means an abuser could have no reasonable expectation of ever being beyond the reach of a claim, he said. The 1993 law is the one that was in place when Saupe said she was abused at Rangeview High School from 2000 to 2004.
Saupe, known as Angelica Synovic then, said she hoped her case would be able to proceed and that it would help other women who have been abused to also come forward.
“Regardless if the law has come after the crime, the crime is still a crime and has been,” she said.