This week the California Assembly unanimously passed a bill that would establish a mandatory minimum sentence of three years in prison for anyone convicted of raping an unconscious person. Currently California state law requires this sentence for anyone convicted of raping a conscious person, leaving a legal loophole that fails to protect vulnerable potential victims.
This bill comes in the wake of the light sentence Judge Aaron Persky granted to rapist Brock Turner. Despite a jury finding him guilty of assault with intent to commit rape, penetration of an intoxicated person, and penetration of an unconscious person, Judge Persky opted to disregard prosecutors’ recommended six-year prison sentence. Instead, Judge Persky handed down a mere six-months in county jail and three years of probation. Turner is set to be released from jail tomorrow after serving only half of his six month sentence.
Advocates of the new measure say it will prohibit judges from granting probation or a suspended sentence in lieu of jail time.
But critics, such as the ACLU of California, have cautioned against the use of mandatory minimums, citing “negative impacts on communities of color and and other unintended consequences.” The sexual assault survivors’ advocate group Know Your IX has also raised concerns about the bill, noting that bias may lead juries to be less likely to convict a wealthy white man if there were a mandatory minimum jail sentence.
In a New York Times editorial, Know Your IX co-founder Alexandra Brodsky and recent Yale Law graduate Claire Simonich, suggested that California, and other states, explore new legal avenues, outside of the criminal justice system, for survivors to obtain justice. “The high visibility of the Turner case obscures the extreme rarity of rape prosecutions,” they write. “Justice and accountability, then, will require increased access to the civil legal system where victims, not prosecutors, can decide whether and how to bring a case.” They continue, “Victims deserve a new solution, not a stale policy.”
Governor Jerry Brown has not said whether or not he intends to sign the bill into law.