California is on the cusp of changing its sentencing laws in response to a nationally watched sexual assault case involving a former Stanford University swimmer, with lawmakers on Monday sending Gov. Jerry Brown legislation mandating heavier penalties for assaulting unconscious victims.
The six-month jail sentence swimmer Brock Turner received after penetrating an unconscious woman prompted widespread outrage from those who perceived the sentence as too light. The fallout spurred a review of California’s sex crime laws.
In addition to backing an effort to oust the judge who sentenced Turner, California policymakers have responded with a measure to broaden the definition of rape – they sent Brown Assembly Bill 701 last week – and with Assembly Bill 2888, which would mandate a prison sentence for sex crimes in which the victim was unconscious. It passed 66-0.
“This makes it very clear that rape is rape,” said Assemblyman Evan Low, D-Campbell, referencing the Turner case in justifying his bill. “Certainly this bill will not stop this rampant problem of rape on college campuses,” he added, “but it’s a step in the right direction.”
The bill had the support of law enforcement groups and was championed by the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office, which prosecuted the Turner case. It sailed through the Legislature, winning votes even from liberal Democrats who tend to support reducing criminal penalties rather than bolstering them.
But the measure drew resistance from the American Civil Liberties Union and the California Public Defenders Association, which warned in a letter to lawmakers that the measure imposes a heavy-handed approach that undermines California’s efforts to reduce its prison population.