A loophole in state law led Mobile County Presiding Judge John Lockett to dismiss a 30-year-old rape case against Timothy Robinson, who was indicted in December after DNA evidence linked him to the rape of a 3-year-old girl in 1989.
As Lagniappe reported at the time, Robinson, now age 47, was arrested Dec. 7 for a rape first reported on June 28, 1989. Robinson was indicted after a backlogged sexual assault kit that had sat in storage for years was re-tested against current DNA databases using funds available through a federal grant.
He was arrested while attempting to register as a sex offender at the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office due to a prior conviction for sexual abuse of an 8-year-old girl in 2011. Robinson was released early from a 10-year prison sentence associated with that crime in late October of 2018.
However, the new case prosecutors were building against Robinson came to a sudden halt Friday after it was dismissed by Lockett, who said the Mobile County Circuit Court would have “no jurisdiction” over Robinson because the alleged offense occurred when he was 17.
According to court filings, there was at least some confusion over Robinson’s age at the time of the alleged offense. Prosecutors even requested copies of his birth certificate, but ultimately, all parties agreed he would have been 17 years old in June of 1989.
“At the time of the alleged offense in 1989, the Alabama Juvenile Justice Act was in effect,” Lockett’s order reads. “That Act provided that the juvenile court had original and exclusive jurisdiction over any offense involving a child who is under 18.”
Over the past 30 years, the state of Alabama has passed and amended laws in an attempt to address similar cases involving juvenile crimes that are not adjudicated until the defendant becomes an adult, but none of those were in effect in 1989.
That’s a crucial factor in Robinson’s case because, under state law, cases brought retroactively are tried under the laws that were in effect at the time the offense occurred.
Today, the law allows juvenile courts to maintain jurisdiction over defendants of any age for crimes committed when they were a minor, if the offense — like rape — has no statute of limitations. Since 1994, juvenile cases brought against adults have automatically transferred to Alabama’s circuit court system.
In 1989, though, Robinson could have only had a case in juvenile court and his case couldn’t have been transferred to circuit court without a direct order from the presiding juvenile court judge. Lockett wrote in his order that, without such an order, “this court has no jurisdiction over the defendant.”
The charges against Robinson were also complicated by the fact that he was never actually charged or accused in connection to the rape reported on June 28, 1989. According to Assistant District Attorney Tandace Hogan, “the family of the three-year-old victim did not cooperate in the investigation in 1989, and [the victim] was not independently able to facilitate the investigation due to her age.”
UPDATE: Jail records indicate Robinson was released from custody on Feb. 4. According to the MCSO, his address is listed as 2701 Demetropolis Road in Mobile, in the general vicinity of Luan Park, Mims Park, Dodge Elementary School, Shepard Elementary School and St. Dominic School.