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Alpena case denied by SCOTUS

ALPENA — An Alpena court case will not be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court and will instead return to a local courtroom for a third trial.

Attorneys for Joel James asked the Supreme Court to review the decision of local and state courts in regards to how much time someone has to make accusations of sexual assault.

In Michigan, sexual assault victims must report abuse within 10 years or by the time they are 21, whichever is later. If the victim is younger than 18, reports must be made within 15 years or by their 28th birthday.

First-degree sexual conduct allegations have no time limits.

James, of Alpena, was convicted in 2016 of a 1990s sexual assault, after two trials in which juries were deadlocked in regards to at least one count.

In the contested charge, James is accused of assaulting a girl who was 13 or 14 years old. The alleged crime was not revealed until 2012, five years after the statute of limitations expired. However, James was living in Alaska during most of the period between the alleged crime and its reporting.

Time spent living out of state does not count toward the statute of limitations, according to Michigan state law.

James’s attorneys contended after the second trial that, because James lived in Alaska before any charges were filed against him, as opposed to moving away after an investigation had already begun, the statute of limitations should apply.

The contested charge was dismissed in circuit court as a result of the motion by the defense.

However, in a first-of-its-kind ruling as it examined circumstances that had not yet come before Michigan’s higher courts, the Michigan Court of Appeals disagreed with that ruling, and the Michigan Supreme Court refused to hear a further appeal.

Defense attorneys carried the matter to the U.S. Supreme Court, which this week declined to hear the case.

Alpena County Prosecutor Ed Black said the 10- to 15-year window for reporting is important because of the amount of time it takes for victims, especially children, to process and be ready to reveal what happened to them.

Excluding the years James lived in Alaska from the statute of limitations allowed time for the alleged victims to be ready to tell their story, he said.

“We didn’t think that allowing an arbitrary number was appropriate in a situation like this, where it took a long time for the facts to come forward,” Black said. “We decided to go forward with the case because we thought that’s what was appropriate in the interest of justice.”

The case will return to the 26th Circuit Court with a hearing in January, and will lead to a third trial for James if another resolution is not reached.