POLITICS

Proposed Law Inspired By Brock Turner Case Would Require Prison Time For More Rapists

California law lets rapists who sexually assault unconscious people avoid jail. A district attorney wants to change that.
Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen wants to change the law so that rapists convicted of assaulting someone intox
Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen wants to change the law so that rapists convicted of assaulting someone intoxicated or unconscious face mandatory prison sentences.

Santa Clara District Attorney Jeff Rosen on Wednesday announced he is proposing legislation inspired by the Brock Turner case to require prison time for anyone convicted of sexually assaulting an intoxicated or unconscious person.

"We need to change the law to protect the next Emily Doe from the next Brock Turner," Rosen said at a press conference Wednesday in Palo Alto, California. "Let's give the next campus sexual assault victim no reason to fear that her attacker will end up walking around free after spending less time in jail than it takes to finish a single college semester."

The bill, co-sponsored by California Assembly members Evan Low (D-San Jose) and Bill Dodd (D-Napa), seeks to close a gap between the sentencing for sexual assaults using force and those committed against people who cannot resist at the time.

If someone is convicted of assault and used force, California law requires a mandatory prison sentence in the case. But if the victim was unconscious or severely intoxicated, and thus the assailant didn't need to use force because the victim could not resist, judges can sentence offenders to little or no jail time. 

That's what happened in Turner's case, because the judge cited "unusual circumstances" on June 2 when he handed down a six-month jail sentence and three years probation to the convicted sex offender. Turner faced as many as 14 years in prison, and Rosen's office requested six years in state prison.

"Current law actually incentivizes rapists to get their victims intoxicated before assaulting them," Low said. "While we can’t go back and change what happened, we can make sure it never happens again." 

Turner's victim was severely intoxicated and unconscious at the time of his assault on her, but the judge said because the former Stanford University student was young and had no previous criminal record, he would give him a less severe punishment. 

The proposal, which denies probation for these types of sex offenders, would have an impact on most campus rape cases, according to a background information from Low and Dodd's office, because a majority of assaults of women in college involve intoxicated victims and offenders. 

The proposal quickly faced skepticism from Nita Chaudhary, co-founder of the activist group UltraViolet, which has been active in a campaign to oust Aaron Persky, the judge in Turner's case. Chaudhary worried the proposal would disproportionately harm minorities and do nothing to hold Persky accountable. 

"While it is long past time that our justice system take the crime of rape seriously, we need judges who focus on finding justice for rape survivors," Chaudhary said in a statement, "not the re-hashing of bad policies that rig the system against poor people and people of color."

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Tyler Kingkade covers higher education and sexual violence and is based in New York. You can reach him at tyler.kingkade@huffingtonpost.com, or find him on Twitter: @tylerkingkade.

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