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June 23, 2016

California legislators introduce bill seeking to mandate that any future Brock Turners face three-year minimum prison terms

As reported in this Reuters piece, headlined "California lawmakers move to change sentencing law following Stanford case," the common legislative reaction by policy-makers to concerns about an unduly lenient sentence is in progress in the wake of the high-profile sexual assault sentencing of Brock Turner. Here are the basics:

Seizing on a nationwide furor over the six-month jail term handed to a former Stanford University swimmer following his conviction for sexual assault on an unconscious woman, California lawmakers on Monday introduced legislation to close a loophole that allowed the sentence. The bill, known as AB 2888, marks the latest response to the sentence given to 20-year-old Brock Turner by Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky in June, which was widely condemned as too lenient. Prosecutors had asked that Turner be given six years in state prison.

"Like many people across the nation, I was deeply disturbed by the sentence in the Brock Turner case," Assemblyman Bill Dodd, one of two California state legislators who introduced the bill, said in a written statement. "Our bill will help ensure that such lax sentencing doesn't happen again."

Turner was convicted of assault with intent to commit rape, penetration of an intoxicated person and penetration of an unconscious person in the January 2015 attack. Under California law, those charges are not considered rape because they did not involve penile penetration. According to the lawmakers, current California law calls for a mandatory prison term in cases of rape or sexual assault where force is used, but not when the victim is unconscious or severely intoxicated and thus unable to resist.

The new legislation, which was introduced in the state assembly on Monday, would eliminate this discretion of a judge to sentence defendants convicted of such crimes to probation, said Ben Golombek, a spokesman for Assemblyman Evan Low, a co-author of the bill. Golombek said that the effect of the proposed new law, which must still be approved by both houses of the legislature and signed by Governor Jerry Brown, is that Turner would have faced a minimum of three years behind bars.

Prior related posts:

June 23, 2016 at 01:03 PM | Permalink


No surprise here.

Posted by: Michael R. Levine | Jun 23, 2016 6:24:37 PM

Not an unexpected reaction. At the end of the day, "law" is a conversation between judges and legislators (with lawyers having input on the judicial side of the conversation and the public having input on the legislative side of the conversation). On sentencing issues, this conversation creates a "rubber band" approach to sentencing discretion. When there are a handful of cases in which the minimum sentence appears to be too harsh to the public and judges, the legislature responds by increasing discretion. When there are a handful of cases in which judges appear to have abused their discretion by imposing rather minimal punishment, the legislature responds by reducing the sentencing options available to prevent such sentences in the future.

Posted by: tmm | Jun 24, 2016 10:35:21 AM

California has one of the weirdest sentencing schemes I've ever seen. I tried to understand it myself and eventually had to contact a California criminal defense attorney to explain what the hell just happened. Essentially, there is a triad of punishments (3, 6, and 9, iirc), but the Judge has the option to impose less than a year and probation. This bill would eliminate that.

Even on object sexual penetration/rape cases that have significant mitigating factors, I don't think three years is unreasonable. While I deplore a lot of the knee-jerk reactions (particularly the calls to remove the Judge) and I don't like that public outrage only goes in one direction, this is a reasonable proposal.

Posted by: Erik M | Jun 24, 2016 9:09:16 PM

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