BILLINGS, Mont. — The Montana Supreme Court is considering arguments over whether a man whose DNA linked him to the 1987 rape of an 8-year-old Billings girl can be charged with the crime.

The statute of limitations for the three counts of sexual intercourse without consent expired in May 2001. In 2007, a new state law said a DNA match would add a year to any expired statute of limitations in sexual assault or rape cases.

A DNA match to the 1987 rape was made in 2014, confirmed in early 2015. Ronald Dwight Tipton was charged in November 2015. He has pleaded not guilty.

District Judge Mary Jane Knisely in November denied Tipton’s motion to dismiss the charges, saying the 2007 law was clearly meant to apply retroactively.

Tipton’s attorney asked the Supreme Court to weigh in, arguing the 2007 law did not contain any provision that would make it retroactive and that the state and federal constitutions bar someone from being prosecuted retroactively.

The state argued Monday that the 2007 law was intended to solve cold cases, noting it says that if a suspect is identified by DNA testing after a statute of limitations has expired in sexual assault cases “a prosecution may be commenced within 1 year after the suspect is conclusively identified by DNA testing.”

Assistant Attorney General Mark Fowler also argued that Tipton was not being charged with something that wasn’t a crime in 1987 and that, if convicted, he would be punished under the sentencing laws that were in effect then.

“Fairness for the victim dictates that this case proceed to trial,” Fowler wrote.

Another man was convicted of the rape and spent 15 years in prison before DNA evidence exonerated him in 2002.

The DNA match to Tipton happened after he agreed to provide a sample as part of a suspended sentence in a drug case.


Information from: The Billings Gazette, http://www.billingsgazette.com