Capitol Alert

Governor signs sexual assault bill prompted by Brock Turner case

Embracing the Legislature’s response to a nationally watched sexual assault case, Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation mandating prison sentences for assaulting unconscious victims while still voicing concern about rigid sentencing.

The six-month jail sentence former Stanford student Brock Turner received for penetrating an unconscious woman prompted outrage from critics who called the sentence too light and argued it enabled college campus rape culture. Legislators have pushed to recall the judge responsible. They also introduced Assembly Bill 2888, which would ensure cases like Turner’s would earn prison sentences.

“As a general matter, I am opposed to adding more mandatory minimum sentences,” Brown wrote in a signing message for AB 2888, but added that the bill “brings a measure of parity to sentencing for criminal acts that are substantially similar.”

Even as lawmakers backed tougher sentences in overwhelmingly approving AB 2888, California criminal policy has been steadily moving in the opposite direction.

Voters approved downgrading many nonviolent crimes like theft and drug possession to misdemeanors when they passed Proposition 47. Brown this year signed bills removing mandatory minimum sentences for prostitution and barring the arrest of juveniles for prostitution.

For years the governor has been presiding over a federally ordered effort to reduce California’s prison population, a situation for which many experts blame overly rigid sentencing laws. He has spearheaded a ballot initiative to make more offenders eligible for parole, saying he wants to “clean up” the effects of tougher sentencing laws he signed during his first administration.

Critics argued AB 2888 would return California to an era of approving stringent sentencing laws in response to headline-grabbing incidents. But backers of the measure said that sex crimes deserve harsh sentences.

“We must draw a line between nonviolent crimes like petty theft and violent crimes like rape. Rapists should go to prison, period,” Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen, whose office prosecuted the Turner case and then pushed for AB 2888, told the Bee after lawmakers approved the measure. “We have room in our prisons for rapists.”

Another bill that grew out of the Turner case, Assembly Bill 701, allows more forms of sexual assault to be referred to as “rape.” Brown signed that measure without comment.

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