Brock Turner is set to be released on Friday, three months earlier than the original six months he was sentenced. This isn't all that surprising, but what is necessary now is to rethink how sexual assault is handled, which is exactly what one state is doing now. On Monday, the California State Assembly passed a new bill inspired by Turner, which would require prison time for sexually assaulting anyone who is unconscious or too inebriated to properly consent. Turner was convicted in California on three felony charges for assaulting an unconscious woman in January 2015 and was let off with what many decreed as an unfair sentence.
The word "unconscious" is at the crux of the matter, as California might be on the verge of changing a law that could set a huge legal precedent for how cases like this are handled. Members of the Assembly voted unanimously to amend the law and make a prison sentence mandatory for anyone who sexually assaults a victim, regardless of their state to consent. AB 2888 passed by a vote of 66-0, as reported by CNN, and is now waiting for Gov. Jerry Brown for approval before it can be signed into law.
Currently, the existing law does not allow a court to grant probation if a person is convicted of certain crimes like "rape by force," reads the text of AB 2888. The amendment to the bill seeks to make a key distinction: It would stop a court from granting probation if a person is convicted of a range of assault, including rape, sodomy, penetration via a foreign object, and oral copulation, regardless whether "the victim was either unconscious or incapable of giving consent due to intoxication," according to the text of the bill. This means that a prison sentence is compulsory and it doesn't question the state of the victim during the assault. This is significant — in a legal sense, this flaw in how the current law is worded means it can lead to more lenient sentencing measures, like the one that was observed in the Turner case.
In June, following Turner's sentence, Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen argued for harsher sentences for sexual assault when he introduced this bill. "Why, under the law, is the sexual assault of an unconscious woman less terrible than that of a conscious woman?" Rosen asked at a news conference in June. "Is it less degrading? Less traumatic?"
Judge Aaron Persky, who sentenced Turner, is embroiled in an intense recall campaign led by Stanford law professor Michele Dauber and is now only ruling on civil court cases. He has faced harsh criticism since the case, but what's been harmful is the way his reasoning for justifying a lax sentence can be seen across other states, too.
Persky cited Turner's young age and the bright future ahead of him as a reason to let him go with a mere slap on the wrist kind of sentence, but this is not uncommon. For instance, earlier this month a high school athlete in Massachusetts, 18-year-old David Becker, was let off with a probation sentence on charges of sexually assaulting two unconscious classmates. Becker's attorney, Thomas Rooke, told Mass Live news that his client "can now look forward to a productive life without being burdened with the stigma of having to register as a sex offender." Becker's attorney went even further as he said, "We all made mistakes when we were 17, 18, 19-years-old, and we shouldn't be branded for life with a felony offense and branded a sex offender."
His words are very much an echo of Persky's justification, calling on an attitude of boys will be boys, which is extremely harmful. The lawyer also refers to the assault as a "mistake" and that is his mistake; let's call it what it is — a crime.
These cases signify how in legal environments, there are prominent gaps that either prevent tougher punishments for sexual assault or allow more lenient routes to be taken. This bill pushed forward in California could very well be an inspirational one that will hopefully push this dialogue further until such holes in state laws across the country are given the attention they need regarding sexual assault.