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In response to the recent sentencing in the Brock Turner case, or lack thereof, the California legislature has passed new laws relating to the crimes of rape and sexual assault. The new laws not only redefine rape and require mandatory minimum sentencing for sexual assault crimes involving an incapacitated victim, they also eliminate the statute of limitations for a prosecutor to bring criminal charges.
Removing the statute of limitations on rape and crimes such as sexual abuse of a minor takes into account the reality that victims are sometimes too traumatized to go through the court process immediately after being victimized. Additionally, oftentimes victims are afraid to come forward initially due to fear of retaliation, victim shaming, societal stigmatization, or for mental health reasons. These issues can take years to work through, and should not be the reason a violent sexual predator is allowed to walk the streets free.
Mandatory Minimums Include Actual Jail Time
When Brock Turner was sentenced to only six months behind bars, people were left wondering how that happened. When it was discovered, in early September 2016, that he would only serve three of those six months, as he received three months credit for time served during trial, public outcry was reignited, motivating Gov. Brown to sign the bills passed by the legislature.
The twenty-year-old college student was convicted of assault with the intention to commit rape of an intoxicated or unconscious person, sexual penetration of an intoxicated person, and sexual penetration of an unconscious person. He was caught on the ground, behind a dumpster, sexually assaulting an unconscious victim. Under the new laws, these acts would have been considered the same as forcible rape of a conscious victim.
While Turner will be on probation for 3 years, and on the sex offender registry for life, his brief stay in jail prompted legislative action to make convictions like his require judges to impose actual prison time in a state, rather than county, facility.
What Removing the Statute of Limitations Means
Under California law, if a crime is punishable by death or life in prison, then there is no statute of limitations for that crime to be prosecuted. For victims of rape and minors that are sexually assaulted, the time they have to come forward has now been expanded. While the prior statute of limitations for adult victims was 10 years, and more than double that for child victims, the new California law puts the perpetrators on the same footing as murders.
Despite the fact that the state can now prosecute an older rape crime than ever before, using old evidence creates reliability problems. Judges, lawyers, and juries will need to grapple with missing witnesses, stale evidence, and other problems that arise when prosecuting older crimes.