SAN JOSE (CBS SF) — Sparked by the Stanford rape trial and subsequent lenient sentence that drew worldwide criticism, the Santa Clara County District Attorney made a move Wednesday to close a loophole for California sex offenders.
Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen said he is simply responding to international outrage by writing this bill himself and finding state lawmakers to push it through Sacramento.
Rosen is supporting Assembly Bill 2888, which was introduced Tuesday by Assemblymen Evan Low, D-Campbell, and Bill Dodd, D-Napa, and co-sponsored by state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo.
Rosen is trying to close a loophole in the law and establish mandatory sentences for people who sexually assault victims who are unconscious.
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“Whatever their ethnic background, rich or poor, must be sentenced to prison,” said Rosen. “Rape is rape.”
Under current law, if the victim of a sexual assault is unconscious and unable to give consent, convicted offenders are actually eligible for probation.
The DA wants mandatory sentences for those offenders.
“This means the judge can’t look at relative youth, nominal criminal history and means in characteristics shared by many college students, as mitigating factors and give probation and a slap on the wrist to campus rapists,” said Rosen.
The woman known anonymously know as Emily Doe started an international movement when her 12 page letter to her convicted attacker Brock Turner went viral around the world.
She was passed out when Turner sexually assaulted her.
The prosecutor asked for six years, but Judge Aaron Persky sentenced Turner to only six months in prison.
Rosen said the mandatory sentences should deter future attacks and make people think twice.
“Emily Doe sat down and wrote a letter that started an international dialogue,” said Rosen. “She showed us the need for change. Now, what are we going to do? It’s on us.”
The DA said it is not unusual for him to push for changes in the law. In fact, he does it about half a dozen times a year.
If the change the DA’s office is proposing was already a law, Turner would have faced at minimum a mandatory sentence of three years in state prison.
If the bill is approved, the sentence for sexual assault on an unconscious or conscious victim would be the same, which is three to eight years in prison, according to Rosen.
“The trauma to the victim, whether conscious or unconscious, is often lifelong,” Rosen said.
Rosen also responded to questions from reporters on a petition to recall Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky, who has been criticized for issuing a light sentence to Turner.
While the district attorney said he believed Turner’s six-month sentence was wrong, the judge had every right to issue the punishment.
Some officials questioned the wisdom of the proposed law.
Public Defender Gary Goodman has been an outspoken supporter of Judge Persky and believes he got the sentence right. Goodman said changing the law is a kneejerk reaction.
“I believe it’s reactionary legislation that’s not necessary. I believe that everything’s already in place to protect victims,” said Goodman.
Ultraviolet, a group against sexism and supportive of women’s rights, initiated a campaign calling for the state Commission on Judicial Performance to remove Persky from the bench.
More than a million people have signed the petition, which was sent to the commission’s office in San Francisco earlier this month.
In a statement Wednesday, Ultraviolet co-founder Nita Chaudhary said the group agrees with Rosen’s stance on the sentence, but doesn’t support his proposal for rapists to receive mandatory prison sentences.
“We agree … that Judge Persky’s sentencing of Brock Turner is an outrage, and that too often rapists spend little to no time in jail for their crimes. However, his proposal of mandatory minimum sentencing for rapists is not only bad policy generally, but also the wrong solution for this case,” Chaudhary said.
“Rosen’s proposal also does nothing to hold Judge Persky — a man who chose to protect a privileged white athlete and rapist over the survivor of his crimes — accountable for his decision,” Chaudhary said.
“While it is long past time that our justice system take the crime of rape seriously, we need judges who focus on finding justice for rape survivors, not the re-hashing of bad policies that rig the system against poor people and people of color,” she said.
Victim advocates say the discretion or wiggle room judges currently have can lead to sentences like in the turner case that don’t fit the crime.
“Judge Persky’s sentence sends a huge message to women and college campuses across this state that sexual assault is not important,” said Becky Warren, the communication director for the group Recall Judge Persky.
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