The overturning of a Los Angeles County rape conviction because the victim was not married sparked vows by legislators Friday to alter state law to ensure it never happens again.
The case of Julio Morales places a spotlight on an obscure law that allows someone to be convicted of rape for impersonating a spouse but is silent about impersonating other lovers.
A similar case in Santa Barbara County sparked legislation two years ago that was shelved by the Senate Public Safety Committee.
"Rape is rape, and we need to do something about this," Democratic Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez of Los Angeles said after Morales' conviction was derailed this week, at least temporarily.
Gomez, Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian and state Sen. Noreen Evans separately vowed Friday to propose legislation that would update the 1870s rape provision to cover impersonation of other bedmates.
Morales walked into the bedroom of a female acquaintance in February 2009 and began having intercourse with her after her boyfriend had left the residence, according to court documents.
When the victim realized that Morales was not her boyfriend, she resisted, pushing him away and yelling, the court said. The victim, her boyfriend, the defendant and several other acquaintances had attended a party earlier that night.
Morales was convicted under a rape statute covering cases in which the victim is asleep, unconscious or unaware of the act due to the perpetrator's fraud.
The Los Angeles-based 2nd District Court of Appeal overturned Morales' conviction this week and returned the case for retrial.
The court found that the prosecutor's arguments created confusion about whether Morales' conviction was based upon assaulting a sleeping woman or upon fraudulently impersonating her boyfriend.
The legal problem stems from the latter, impersonating a boyfriend not a spouse.
"Has the man committed rape? Because of historical anomalies in the law and the statutory definition of rape, the answer is no, even though, if the woman had been married and the man had impersonated her husband, the answer would be yes," the court said.
McGeorge Law School Professor John Myers speculated that the arcane 19th century rape statute did not cover boyfriends because it was considered adultery at the time to sleep with anyone other than a spouse.
"That would have been unspeakable, you wouldn't talk about that in polite company," Myers said.
Gomez said he does not have a specific proposal to fix the problem, but he has begun devising one by asking the Legislative Counsel's Office to craft language.
Achadjian, R-San Luis Obispo, said he will expand the law to encompass cases where a perpetrator deceives a victim by impersonating a co-habitant or a boyfriend or girlfriend. "Californians are justifiably outraged by this court ruling," Achadjian said.
Evans, D-Santa Rosa, plans to reword the penal code statute to cover cases involving a "sexually intimate partner," which would include domestic partners and gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender lovers.
"It would be an abdication of the Legislature's responsibility not to change it," she said.
Achadjian proposed failed legislation in 2011 to narrowly expand the rape provision to cover co-habitants.
The San Luis Obispo Republican acted after a Santa Barbara County intruder could not be prosecuted for rape because his victim had a live-in boyfriend, not a husband.
Achadjian's Assembly Bill 765 was shelved by the Senate Public Safety Committee, which was holding all bills that potentially could exacerbate California prison overcrowding.
The prison crisis has lessened somewhat the past two years, and Mark Hedlund, spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, said he expects action to be taken this year in response to Morales' case.
"We know the statute needs to be fixed and we intend to do that," Hedlund said.