The former Stanford University student Brock Turner gets out of jail Friday, just in time for the political fallout from his drunken sexual assault of a passed-out young woman to land on Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk.
The California Legislature has passed two bills since a Santa Clara County judge, following a probation officer’s recommendation, sentenced Turner, now 21, to six months in county jail rather than the six-year prison term sought by prosecutors.
One measure would mandate much harder time for future Brock Turners; unfortunately, it’s so heavy-handed and pro-prosecution that it would be counterproductive. The other, which would broaden California’s definition of rape, makes sense.
Assembly Bill 2888 passed overwhelmingly this year after the victim’s outraged statement to the judge became an online sensation. Written by the Santa Clara County district attorney and promoted by a Stanford law professor who is a friend of the victim and wants the judge recalled, it was carried by Assemblymen Bill Dodd, D-Napa, and Evan Low, D-Campbell, and Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo.
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It aims to draw a bright line on campus rape and to punish sexual assaults equally, whether the defendant is poor and black or brown, or privileged and white, like Turner, who was caught by two graduate students thrusting his hips against an unconscious woman outside a party on the Stanford campus early this year. Current California law treats the sexual assault of an unconscious person less severely than if the victim is conscious. AB 2888 would mandate the same three years of incarceration, with no chance of probation, either way.
Mandatory minimum sentences sound fair, and satisfy calls for vengeance, but they worsen inequality in the system.
Mandatory minimum sentences of this sort sound fair and satisfy calls for vengeance. But in practice, they worsen inequality, taking discretion from judges and handing it to prosecutors, who, in determining charges, effectively get to decide the sentence, with no chance of appeal.
Defendants who can’t afford lawyers will, regardless of guilt, be more likely to plea bargain; that’s one reason so many black and brown people are in the system, and why it’s so crowded. In fact, new policies to reduce crowding are partly why Turner’s actual time served was only about half of his sentence.
AB 2888 has been opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union. Brown should veto it.
More practical is AB 701 by Assemblywomen Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens, and Susan Eggman, D-Stockton, which broadens California’s definition of rape so that it is more consistent with other states’.
Though Turner’s assault was a felony under California law, it technically couldn’t be termed rape because, though his victim was penetrated digitally, DNA testing showed there was no penile penetration. That’s an outdated definition of the crime; the FBI, for instance, recognizes as rape any nonconsensual sexual penetration with any body part or object. Twenty-five states already have updated their standards. California should join them in making it clear that rape is rape.
That said, a word about Turner and the hounding of Judge Aaron Persky, who last week voluntarily moved to civil court so as to remove himself as a distraction: Enough.
Turner, like his victim, will be damaged forever. The judge faces a recall. But there should be no place for further harassment of either as Turner is released and transferred to probation authorities in his home state of Ohio. The penalty has been paid.
Persky’s verdict may have been unpopular, but he did what we pay judges to do – use his judgment. Time for the Brock Turner mob to dissipate.