Dan Walters

Is rape a violent crime? AG Kamala Harris offers two definitions

Attorney General Kamala Harris recently released her annual report on crime, revealing that in 2015, violent crimes jumped 10 percent from the previous year.

Among the four violent crimes listed, the 36.1 percent increase in rape was the most startling. It revealed that 12,793 persons – virtually all women – were rape victims last year.

Within that sickening statistic lies a bothersome political tale.

Digging into the voluminous report’s appendix reveals the dozens of specific assaults in the Penal Code it deems to be rape and therefore violent crimes.

However, another Harris document – her official summary of Gov. Jerry Brown’s criminal sentencing measure on the November ballot – has a much different take.

The measure, according to Harris, “allows parole consideration for persons convicted of nonviolent felonies upon completion of full prison term for primary offense, as defined.”

The measure itself declares, “Any person convicted of a nonviolent felony offense and sentenced to state prison shall be eligible for parole consideration after completing the full term for his or her primary offense.”

But what’s a nonviolent felony?

Brown’s campaign acknowledges that the measure, if enacted, would offer easier parole to anyone convicted of a crime not specifically listed as a “violent felony” in Penal Code Section 667.5(c). That section includes rape, but limits its definition to “sexual intercourse” by force, violence, extortion or threat.

It excludes dozens of other forms of rape, including rape with a foreign object, and other sexual assaults that Harris’ crime report considers to be violent crimes.

Brown’s campaign says he expects that the state parole board would also make registered sex offenders ineligible for parole. But that’s a policy expectation, not a binding law.

How does Harris’ office explain her obviously divergent definitions?

It says, rather lamely, “The term ‘nonviolent felony offense’ comes from the language of the governor’s sentencing measure itself. If the measure is approved by voters, it remains to be seen how ‘nonviolent felony’ will be defined.”

In other words, Harris’ ballot summary merely parroted Brown’s wording, and the state’s top law enforcement official didn’t do her homework on how it starkly conflicts with her own agency’s definition of violent crime.

Brown’s measure was cleared for the ballot – thanks to a generous decision by the state Supreme Court on its irregular drafting – just as the Capitol exploded with indignation about the light penalty on former Stanford University swimmer Brock Turner for three counts of sexual assault of an intoxicated young woman.

Turner faced as many as 14 years in prison but received just six months in jail. Two convictions were for sexual penetration of an unconscious or inebriated victim – crimes that are violent felonies in Harris’ annual crime report but are not considered violent felonies under Brown’s measure for which she provided the “nonviolent” summary.

Harris, a U.S. Senate candidate, was mildly critical of Turner’s sentence, but legislators denounced it and quickly introduced a bill to prohibit probation for the crimes Turner committed and other sexual assaults.

One can easily criticize the judge who gave Turner such a light sentence – but shouldn’t we also include those who play political games with slippery definitions of violent crime?