On Friday, Governor Jerry Brown signed state legislation inspired by the case of former Stanford student Brock Turner that will mandate harsher punishments for sexual assault.
Turner sparked national debate this summer after a judge gave him a particularly light sentence — six months in county jail, of which he served three — for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman outside a party on campus last year. The new laws approved by Gov. Brown guarantee stricter sentences in future cases similar to Turner’s: AB 701 expands the legal definition of rape to include forcible penetration by “foreign objects” (Turner penetrated the woman with a finger), while AB 2888 requires prison time for sexual assault of an unconscious or intoxicated victim. The laws will take effect in January 2017.
“This sends the strongest possible message that rape is rape and in California, if you do the crime, you’re going to do the time,” Evan Low, a state Assembly member co-sponsoring AB 2888, told the Mercury News.
The definition of rape varies by state. Previously, California’s Penal Code limited “rape” to sexual intercourse rather than all forms of penetration. In addition, while rape “by force” carried a mandatory sentence of three, six or eight years in prison in California, judges could use their discretion in cases where the victim was incapacitated beyond the ability to give consent.
In the wake of the Turner case, many questioned whether the fact that the victim was unconscious or inebriated during an assault should allow a lesser punishment for the perpetrator. Shortly after Turner’s sentencing in June, three Bay Area legislators — State Senator Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) and Assembly-members Low (D-Campbell) and Bill Dodd (D-Napa) — introduced AB 2888. Assembly-members Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens) and Susan Eggman (D-Stockton) pushed for AB 701.
In a statement accompanying his signing on Friday, Brown said that he generally opposes mandatory minimums. In the past, he has sought to reform sentencing laws with more lenient stance aimed at easing prison overcrowding. Critics of mandatory minimums argue that rigid sentencing can lead to over-incarceration, particularly of racial minorities.
However, the governor said he supported a new mandate when it comes to sexual assault of an incapacitated person.
“I believe it brings a measure of parity to sentencing for criminal acts that are substantially similar,” Brown wrote.
Earlier last week, Brown also signed Senate Bill 813. The bill removed the statute of limitations on sexual assault, which previously restricted how long one could wait to prosecute a crime. The bill’s expanded window for prosecution will apply only to crimes committed in 2017 and onward.
Contact Hannah Knowles at hknowles ‘ at’ stanford.edu.