DA in Stanford Rape Case Wants Tougher Sex Assault Law | NBC Southern California
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DA in Stanford Rape Case Wants Tougher Sex Assault Law

"We need to change the law to protect the next Emily Doe from the next Brock Turner"

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    The controversial sentence that sparked nationwide outrage is also the driving force behind new legislation being sponsored by the Santa Clara County District Attorney. Michelle Roberts reports. (Published Wednesday, June 22, 2016)

    A former Stanford swimmer's six-month sentence for sexual assault sparked nationwide outrage this month, and it's now the driving force behind new legislation that would set a mandatory minimum sentence for convicted rapists of unconscious victims.

    The proposal, for a three-year minimum sentence, is being supported by Santa Clara County's top prosecutor, District Attorney Jeff Rosen, whose criticism of the sentence helped spur the outcry. Rosen is a sponsor of Assembly Bill 2888, which was introduced Tuesday by Assemblymen Evan Low, D-Campbell, and Bill Dodd, D-Napa, and co-sponsored by state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo.

    Rosen made the announcement on the steps of the same Palo Alto courthouse where Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky sentenced Brock Turner to six months in jail for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman outside a Stanford campus party in 2015.

    Standing next to him was Deputy District Attorney Alaleh Kianerci, the prosecutor in the case.

    Turner will end up serving three months, having faced a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison. Online county jail records show he is scheduled for release on Sept. 2.

    That sentence ignited a nationwide firestorm and calls to recall the judge. Over a million people have signed a petition pushing for a state judicial commission to take action.

    "We need to change the law to protect the next Emily Doe from the next Brock Turner," Rosen said.

    "Let's give the next campus sexual assault victim no reason to fear that her attacker will end up walking around free after spending less time in jail than it takes to finish a single college semester," he said.

    On June 2, Persky declared that there were "unusual circumstances" in the case and sentenced Turner to six months in jail for his sexual assault convictions.

    The victim read a 12-page letter to the judge that documented her anguish; it went viral after it was posted online, and in a historic move, was even read aloud by congressional leaders on the floor of the U.S. House.

    In the letter, she identifies herself simply as "Emily Doe."

    "We've read her letter, now let's give her back something beyond worldwide sympathy and anger," Rosen said.

    Currently, state law allows a defendant convicted of sexual assault on an unconscious victim to be eligible for probation. The proposed legislation would require a state prison sentence regardless of the victim's awareness of the act, Rosen said.

    "This means that a judge can't look at relative youth, nominal criminal history and means — characteristics shared by many college students — as mitigating factors and give probation," Rosen said.

    He said the bill would make the sentence for sexual assault on an unconscious victim the same as for a conscious victim: three to eight years in prison.

    "Sexually assaulting an unconscious woman is as serious as sexually assaulting a conscious person," Rosen said. "There should be no distinction between those because rape is rape. The trauma to the victim, whether conscious or unconscious, is often life-long."

    Deputy Public Defender Sajid Khan, however, is opposed to increasing the minimum sentencing for all sexual predators. He counted himself among more than a dozen public defenders who are concerned that stricter sentencing guidelines will lead to mass incarceration.

    "We’re limiting judicial discretion and their ability to take into account individualized circumstances into sentencing," Khan said. "We want a more holistic analysis of each case."

    Rosen also responded to questions from reporters on a petition to recall Persky, reiterating his belief that while Turner's six-month sentence was wrong, the judge had every right to issue the punishment.

    Ultraviolet, an advocacy group against sexism and supportive of women's rights, initiated a campaign calling for the state Commission on Judicial Performance to remove Persky from the bench. Nearly a million people have signed the petition, which was sent to the commission's office in San Francisco earlier this month.

    Another petition seeking Persky's removal, on change.org, has about 1.25 million signatures.

    In a statement Wednesday, Ultraviolet co-founder Nita Chaudhary said the group agrees with Rosen's stance on the sentence, but doesn't support his proposal for rapists to receive mandatory prison sentences.

    "We agree ... that Judge Persky's sentencing of Brock Turner is an outrage, and that too often rapists spend little to no time in jail for their crimes. However, his proposal of mandatory minimum sentencing for rapists is not only bad policy generally, but also the wrong solution for this case," Chaudhary said in the statement.

    She continued: "Rosen's proposal also does nothing to hold Judge Persky - a man who chose to protect a privileged white athlete and rapist over the survivor of his crimes - accountable for his decision.

    "While it is long past time that our justice system take the crime of rape seriously, we need judges who focus on finding justice for rape survivors, not the re-hashing of bad policies that rig the system against poor people and people of color," she said.

    A hearing in Sacramento next week will focus on Rosen's proposed law. 

    Meanwhile, Assemblywoman Nora Campos of San Jose is expected to introduction legislation that would require sexual predators to serve their entire sentence and eliminate their eligibility for early release.