A new bill that would change an antiquated California rape law is moving up in Sacramento after lawmakers unanimously voted on Tuesday to take the first step to close a loophole in the legislation.
Senate Bill 59 would alter an 1872 law that does not protect unmarried victims of unwanted sex if the attacker impersonates the victim’s boyfriend or girlfriend.
Under California Penal Code Section 261, it is a felony to impersonate someone’s spouse during a rape.
"There’s a number of statutes that are a century old that are absurd by standards now, but we don’t know it until some things come to light," said Rhys Williams, press secretary for Sen. pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), who helped coauthor the proposed bill.
"You realize that this is one area of many thousands of pages of California statutes that needs updating."
In the 2009 court case The People v. Julio Morales, the defendant was accused of having sexual intercourse with a sleeping woman who was under the impression that Morales was her boyfriend.
California’s 2nd District Court of Appeals threw out the case in January, saying that Morales could not be charged with rape because the victim was not married.
Sen. Noreen Evans (D-Santa Rosa) began co-authoring the bill in January with 12 other senators, including Steinberg.
The Senate Public Safety Committee voted 6-0 Tuesday to advance SB59. Williams said the bill’s importance was evident as it was the first bill heard at the session.
The bill is now headed to the California Senate Appropriations Committee before it goes to the Senate Floor for approval.
The bill would become effective if it passes the State Assembly, which Williams expects to happen in April or May.
Once passed, the bill would bring Morales’ case, which spurred the bill’s writing, back to court.
"The judge said there are other grounds this case could be tried on that are stronger to get the appropriate verdict," Williams said.
"But since the U.S. Constitution doesn’t work retroactively, it would not apply to previous incarnations of this bill," he added.
Williams said that SB59 will have fiscal considerations after it passes the Appropriations Committee given that it would expand potential felonies.
The bill will broaden the law and apply to other forms of sexual interaction, beyond the standard definition of rape, Williams said.