Brock Turner was a 19-year-old freshman at Stanford and a member of the school’s swim team when he was arrested on January 18, 2015. Turner was convicted in March 2016 on three counts of felony sexual assault. The convictions carried a potential sentence of fourteen years in prison, and the prosecutors asked for six years. Instead, Turner was sentenced to six months in the Santa Clara County Jail, and he was released after three months. Immediately, widespread public criticism of the sentence emerged, and California lawmakers reacted with Assembly Bill 701 and Assembly Bill 2888. Governor Jerry Brown signed both measures late in 2016.
The new statutes mean harsher consequences for those convicted of sex crimes in this state. A sentence for rape now must include at least some amount of time in a California state prison. The proposal to incarcerate sex offenders posed a real challenge for the state as California’s criminal justice system is working to move away from its reliance on prison sentences and incarceration. Governor Brown said that while he is generally opposed to new proposals for incarcerating convicted criminal offenders, “Nevertheless, I am signing AB 2888, because I believe it brings a measure of parity to sentencing for criminal acts that are substantially similar.”
As governor in 1977, Jerry Brown signed into law a strict system for sentencing convicted offenders. But the governor has since admitted that he regrets those policies, and he’s been outspoken against other tough-on-crime measures in recent years. Nevertheless, in reaction to the accusations lodged against comedian Bill Cosby, in 2016 Governor Brown also signed legislation – the Justice for Victims Act, Senate Bill 813 – that removes California’s statutes of limitations for specified sex crimes.
PRECISELY WHAT DO THE NEW LAWS DO?
Assembly Bill 701 broadens California’s legal definition of rape to include digital penetration (the accusation against Turner) as well as penile penetration. Assembly Bill 2888 provides for a mandatory minimum three-year prison sentence for the sexual assault of an unconscious or intoxicated person. Previously, California law provided a mandatory minimum prison sentence when a defendant uses force, but there was no mandatory minimum sentence when the victim is unconscious or incapacitated. Both Assembly Bill 701 and Assembly Bill 2888 were unanimously approved by the California legislature. Both took effect on January 1, 2017.
The new laws come at a time when college administrators, law enforcement agencies, and the criminal courts are facing heated criticism for purportedly mishandling a number of rape and sexual assault allegations. “The national awakening about campus sexual assaults … continues to grow, changing our minds and our laws,” said Santa Clara District Attorney Jeff Rosen. He added, “While prisons are not appropriate for every person convicted of a crime, rapists belong in prison.”
IS THERE ANY CRITICISM OF THE NEW STATUTES?
However, not all of the reaction to the new laws has been so positive. Crime victim advocates suspect that the new statutes may disproportionately impact poor and minority criminal suspects who cannot afford private defense representation. Natasha Minsker, speaking for the ACLU of California, said that the new laws are well-intentioned but will have the effect of creating even more injustices over time.
Ms. Minsker released a statement that says, “Those who will bear the brunt of this law will be defendants whose parents can’t afford to hire the best attorneys money can buy, defendants who take plea deals for a lesser sentence even if they are innocent because they know judges won’t have any discretion during sentencing, and defendants who are mentally ill or who themselves suffered from severe sexual abuse.”
The slap-on-the-wrist punishment in the Brock Turner case provoked acrimony across the nation and even triggered a campaign to recall Santa Clara Judge Aaron Persky, who presided over the case. Judge Persky has been accused of judicial bias in favor of “male privilege” and “class privilege.” Stanford law professor Michele Dauber said, “We need judges who understand sexual assault and violence against women. Judge Persky does not.” The Santa Clara County Bar Association defended the judge, saying that the sentence was consistent with similar cases and that Judge Persky’s removal would be a “threat to judicial independence.”
In June 2016, at least ten prospective jurors refused to serve in a misdemeanor trial where Judge Persky was presiding, citing the judge’s role in the Turner case as a reason. As a result of the nationwide backlash, Judge Persky has been voluntarily re-assigned to the Civil Division of the California Court system. According to Vice News, the Turner case was a “controversial episode in an ongoing debate sweeping the U.S. about rape culture, privilege in the criminal justice system, and campus safety.”
WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO BROCK TURNER?
Brock Turner was released from the Santa Clara County jail on September 2, 2016, after serving only three months of his six-month sentence. Under the terms of his release, Turner must live with his parents in Ohio, where he must be registered as a sex offender. He will be on probation for three years, and he must abstain from alcohol and drugs during that time. At the time of Turner’s sentencing, Judge Persky had cited the “extraordinary circumstances” of Turner’s youth and his lack of a previous criminal record.
If you’re accused of a sex crime in southern California, you must have an experienced Long Beach criminal defense attorney investigate the facts and defend you against the charge. Any conviction in California for a sex crime can have severe life-long consequences. Still, if you are the one facing a sex crime allegation, the state must prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In many cases, it’s entirely possible that the whole thing was a misunderstanding, and in other sex crime cases, suspects have been falsely accused.
So long as a defense attorney is not seen as “attacking the victim,” most jurors will listen to a defendant’s side of the story. But in the most complicated sex crime trials, the line between an aggressive defense and an improper attack can be hard to distinguish. A defense attorney must be skilled and experienced at interrogation and cross-examination. In fact, in sexual assault cases, an experienced Long Beach criminal defense attorney’s skills and experience can make all the difference.