San Francisco Chronicle

Stanford assault: Santa Clara County district attorney seeks to close loophole in laws that allows for lighter sentences if a victim is unconsciou­s.

- By Libby Rainey

A legal loophole that allowed former Stanford University student Brock Allen Turner to get a six-month county jail sentence for sexually assaulting an unconsciou­s woman last year would be closed under legislatio­n proposed Wednesday by Santa Clara County prosecutor­s.

Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen said his office has written a bill to ensure that anyone convicted of sexual assault in California will have to serve a state prison term and will not be eligible for probation.

Rosen noted that under state law, perpetrato­rs who sexually assault a

conscious person must serve time in state prison, not county jail, and are ineligible for probation. Those who assault an unconsciou­s person, however, can get a relatively light county jail sentence or even probation — the sentence that Turner’s defense attorneys requested for him after he was convicted of three felonies for assaulting an unconsciou­s woman outside a Stanford fraternity party in January 2015.

“The judge gave the wrong sentence, but he had the legal right to give it,” Rosen said at a news conference on the steps of Santa Clara County Superior Court in Palo Alto, where Turner was convicted and sentenced. His prosecutor­s sought a six-year term for Turner in state prison.

The current legal discrepanc­y between sexually assaulting a conscious versus an unconsciou­s person stems from whether the attacker uses force. State law dictates that a perpetrato­r’s use of force in an assault involving penetratio­n triggers a mandatory prison sentence. However, when a victim is unconsciou­s, he or she is unable to resist and the perpetrato­r therefore does not have to use force.

“So a perpetrato­r at a college party who chooses to forcibly rape a conscious victim will go to prison,” Rosen said. “However, a different perpetrato­r at the same party who chooses to watch and wait for a victim to pass out from intoxicati­on before sexually assaulting her can get probation.”

The proposed legislatio­n would change the law so that someone convicted of assaulting an unconsciou­s person would have to be sentenced to state prison. The bill, AB2888, is sponsored by state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, and Assemblyme­n Bill Dodd, D-Napa, and Evan Low, D-Campbell.

“Current law actually incentiviz­es rapists to get their victims intoxicate­d before assaulting them,” Low said in a statement. “While we can’t go back and change what happened, we can make sure it never happens again.”

Public reaction was swift when Judge Aaron Persky handed down a six-month sentence for Turner, 20, earlier this month. A petition garnered more than 1 million signatures urging the judge’s removal from the bench.

Rosen recently had Persky removed from a case involving a nurse accused of sexually assaulting a sedated patient, citing a lack of confidence that the judge could “fairly participat­e.” However, Rosen says he does not support efforts to recall the judge.

The woman assaulted by Turner supports the legislatio­n, according to Rosen. While announcing the bill, Rosen quoted from the letter the woman read to Turner during sentencing: “The seriousnes­s of rape has to be communicat­ed clearly. We should not create a culture that suggests that we learn that rape is wrong through trial and error. The consequenc­es of sexual assault need to be severe enough that people feel enough fear to exercise good judgment, even if they are drunk, severe enough to be preventati­ve.”

Rosen said, “We’ve read her letter — now let’s give her back something beyond worldwide sympathy and anger. Let’s give her a legacy that will send the next Brock Turner to prison,” Rosen said.

 ?? Connor Radnovich / The Chronicle ?? Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen speaks at a news conference about proposed legislatio­n requiring harsher sentences for some sex assaults.
Connor Radnovich / The Chronicle Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen speaks at a news conference about proposed legislatio­n requiring harsher sentences for some sex assaults.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States