California lawmakers passed a bill Monday that would mandate prison sentences for individuals convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious victim, seeking to close a legal loophole that lawmakers say allows convicted felons such as Brock Turner to receive more lenient sentencing.
The bill, AB 2888, passed unanimously in the state Assembly and now awaits Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature.
“Rape is Rape, and rapists like Brock Turner shouldn’t be let off with a slap on the wrist,” said bill co-sponsor Assemblymember Evan Low, D-Silicon Valley, in a press release Monday.
Turner is expected to be released Friday after serving half of his six-month jail sentence for three felony counts of sexual assault of an intoxicated and unconscious woman.
Currently, if a defendant does not use physical force — as in cases when the victim may be severely intoxicated or unconscious, such as Brock Turner’s victim — a judge is not legally required to sentence prison time.
If signed into law, the bill would change current law and shift sentencing discretion away from judges and toward prosecutors, according to campus law professor Franklin Zimring, who is one of the more than 45 California legal scholars who signed a public letter opposing the recall effort against the judge who issued Turner probation earlier this year.
Zimring said the effect of this shift in power from judges to prosecutors is worrisome, as it would eliminate the ability for judges to reason through the potentially complicated circumstances of a case.
“It is news-reactive, and news-reactive in a very unthinking way,” Zimring said. “They don’t want to change the nature of criminal justice in California, they want to change the results in the particular case.”
Assemblymember Bill Dodd, D-Napa, a co-sponsor of the measure, said in a Monday statement that the bill is “about more than sentencing,” and that he hoped its passage might also help to change the culture on college campuses surrounding sexual assault by encouraging survivors to come forward.
An average of only one of every three sexual assault victims — and only one of every five sexually assaulted college students — chooses to report their assault to authorities, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. In the 2014-15 academic year, the campus Title IX office received 196 complaints, with campus officials expecting that number to rise this year.
“(The bill is) a nice idea, but I feel like on this campus, and others, there are drunk people assaulted very frequently and it’s rarely reported,” said Vinay Parakala, a campus sophomore. “There’s a greater chance that the assaulter wouldn’t get off scot-free.”