Capitol Alert

California will lift statute of limitations on rape, let more felons vote

Norma Hernandez wipes her eyes as she talks about being raped when she was 13 during a news conference Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2016, in Sacramento, Calif.with Sen. Connie Leyva, D-Chino.
Norma Hernandez wipes her eyes as she talks about being raped when she was 13 during a news conference Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2016, in Sacramento, Calif.with Sen. Connie Leyva, D-Chino. AP

Rape victims will be able to seek criminal charges at any time in California, with Gov. Jerry Brown signing legislation Wednesday that had prompted alleged victims of embattled entertainer Bill Cosby to testify at the Capitol.

In signing Senate Bill 813, Brown sided with supporters of the measure who say the pursuit of justice requires allowing rape cases to be prosecuted no matter how many years have elapsed. The bill drew support from law enforcement groups and passed the Legislature without a dissenting vote.

“Rapists should never be able to evade legal consequences simply because an arbitrary time limit has expired,” Sen. Connie Leyva, D-Chino, said in a statement. “There must never be an expiration date on justice!”

Opponents, who included public defenders and civil libertarians, warned that the difficulty of reconstructing events using fallible evidence, such as witness testimony, would raise the risk of wrongful convictions. California law already offers an exemption to current statute limitations when new DNA evidence comes to light.

Brown approved the measure despite expressing reservations in the past about extending statutes of limitations. In vetoing a 2013 measure to broaden the window for lawsuits related to childhood sexual abuse, Brown wrote a long response calling the limits a guarantor of “fairness” and noting that “With the passage of time, evidence may be lost or disposed of, memories fade and witnesses move away or die.” He did not include a signing message for SB 813.

Also earning Brown’s signature Wednesday was a contentious measure extending voting rights to people serving sentences for nonviolent felonies outside of prisons. Assembly Bill 2466 grows out of a criminal justice policy Brown embraced as a solution to prison overcrowding, known as “realignment,” that redirected lower-level felons to jails rather than prisons. It also came as Brown is pursuing a ballot measure making more offenders eligible for early parole.

In signing that measure, Brown defied law enforcement opposition. The same was true of his approval of Assembly Bill 2298, which imposes new rules on a state database for tracking gang members. The bill requires adults designated as gang members to be notified and offered a chance to contest their inclusion.

While Brown wrote in a signing message that “the CalGang database serves a very important role in dealing with gang activity,” he argued for change in light of a state audit that found wide-ranging errors in the database. Among them: 42 people tabbed as gang members, including 28 included for “admitting to being gang members,” were under one-year-old when entered.

“I believe substantive improvements are clearly in order,” Brown wrote.

Jeremy B. White: 916-326-5543, @CapitolAlert

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