Bills inspired by Stanford rape case miss big part of the problem

Brock turnerBrock Turner is a free man, and now California’s justice system is on trial.

When the former Stanford student was sentenced in June to only six months in prison for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman behind a dumpster, a sickening thud landed like a punch to the gut of millions of people who were following the high-profile trial.

Santa Clara County Judge Aaron Persky could have sentenced Turner to 14 years in prison and prosecutors asked for six. But despite the prosecutors’ recommendation and an impassioned letter from the victim describing her life-destroying ordeal, read aloud in court, the judge sentenced the young man from a wealthy family to just half a year in prison. “A prison sentence would have a severe impact on him,” Persky explained.

In the uproar that followed, Persky moved to civil court and no longer hears criminal cases, a recall effort was launched against him, and the California Legislature sent two bills to the governor’s desk.

AB701 modifies the definition of rape to include selected acts that under current law are charged as “sexual assault” and “forcible sodomy.”

AB2888 ensures that sex crimes against an unconscious or severely intoxicated victim trigger mandatory prison sentences without any argument over whether “force” was used to commit the crime.

Another, SB813, removes the statute of limitations so rapists can be charged no matter how long ago the crime occurred.

Do these laws heighten the risk of wrongful convictions?

Try this test: Instead of thinking about Brock Turner, think about the three Duke lacrosse players who were wrongfully accused of gang rape in 2006. After a year, North Carolina’s attorney general declared the three men innocent. The Durham district attorney was convicted of contempt and disbarred.

The challenge is to get the law right so innocent defendants can clear their names and innocent victims can get justice, sometimes in cases where only two people were present, and one was unconscious or close to it.

Perhaps the law should address what happened to Turner’s victim after the crime.

In her statement to the court, the victim said she originally thought Turner would “formally apologize, and we will both move on.” Instead, “he hired a powerful attorney, expert witnesses, private investigators who were going to try and find details about my personal life to use against me.”

That’s what happens to victims of sexual assault when the perpetrator is wealthy or powerful enough to use character assassination as part of a legal or public relations defense. …

Click here to read the full article from the L.A. Daily News