California lawmakers pass sexual assault bill inspired by Stanford case

SACRAMENTO — California is one step closer to making prison time mandatory for anyone convicted of sexually assaulting a person who is unconscious or too intoxicated to consent — a measure inspired by former Stanford University student Brock Turner’s sentence.

AB 2888 passed the state Assembly Monday by a unanimous 66-0 vote. It is headed to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk.

Lawmakers proposed the measure in June in response to the outcome in the former Stanford swimmer’s trial.

Turner was sentenced to six months in jail and three years of probation for sexually assaulting a 23-year-old unconscious woman in 2015 behind a trash bin on the university’s campus. Critics condemned the sentence from Santa Clara County Judge Aaron Persky as too lenient, leading to efforts to recall Persky and change sentencing laws for sexual assault.

Turner is scheduled to be released Friday.

The Santa Clara County district attorney’s office had requested the maximum sentence of six years, based largely on the woman’s condition.

Turner would have served the sentence in a state prison, as opposed to the sentence he is currently serving in the Santa Clara County jail.

Under current state law, those convicted of certain sex crimes such as rape by force and aggravated sexual assault of a child are ineligible for probation or a suspended sentence and must serve prison time.

AB 2888 would amend the law to create the same punishment for those convicted of rape, sodomy, penetration with a foreign object and oral sex if the victim was unconscious or incapable of giving consent due to intoxication.

Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen said in June that he hoped the bill would “changes hearts and minds.”

“Why under the law is the sexual assault of an unconscious woman less terrible than that of a conscious woman, ” Rosen asked at the time. “Is it less degrading? Less traumatic?”

Opponents of the measure liken its potential impact to that of mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, which are now being dismantled amid evidence that they disproportionately impact minorities and contributed to California’s crisis of overcrowded prisons.

“There’s no evidence that longer prison sentences serve as deterrents,” said University of the Pacific law professor Michael Vitiello, calling it a reactive measure to the latest crime du jour.

“There are real costs to spending so much money on our prison system. It means that there aren’t resources for other things, like education and more law enforcement on the streets.”

A victim impact statement penned by Turner’s unidentified victim and submitted to Persky for sentencing consideration drew the case into the spotlight, sparking widespread outrage over the sentence.

In 12-page statement, addressed to Turner, she described going to a fraternity party near Stanford and drinking until she blacked out. She woke in a hospital with pine needles in her hair, unaware of what happened to her between the time of the party and returning to consciousness.

She described the traumatic and humiliating experience of enduring an hourslong forensic exam for sexual assault, urging Persky to hand down the maximum sentence.

“My life has been on hold for over a year, a year of anger, anguish and uncertainty, until a jury of my peers rendered a judgment that validated the injustices I had endured,” she wrote.