Senate committee advances bills on rape, sentencing

Lady Justice - ThemisMarch 7, 2013

By Dave Roberts

California state laws from the past occasionally crop up and need to be amended. That happened last week when the Senate Public Safety Committee unanimously approved SB 59, which is designed to close a loophole that allows a man to get away with rape by impersonating a woman’s boyfriend. Current law states that a rape occurs if a woman is married and the rapist impersonates her husband. But there is no rape if she’s not married and the rapist impersonates her boyfriend.

In January, the Second District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles overturned the rape conviction of Julio Morales, who admitted to police that he had sex with a sleeping woman who probably thought he was her boyfriend. The incident occurred at a party in Cerritos in 2009 after the woman, who had had three to five beers, went to bed and her boyfriend left the party. She awoke in the middle of the rape, screamed and pushed Morales away. He was convicted and served a three-year sentence. He will face a retrial, although he probably would not do any more time if convicted.

“Justice should not be conditioned on a victim’s marital status or sexual orientation,” the bill’s author, Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, told the committee. “This bill substitutes and defines the new term ‘sexual partner’ in place of the outdated word ‘spouse’ in the rape statue.”

She was supported by Katie Donahue, with the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault, which represents 84 rape crisis programs in the state.

“Women are currently vulnerable to this loophole in the law,” she said. “The criminal justice process can be a difficult, emotionally fraught experience for survivors. For any woman to have her rapist’s conviction overturned, despite the evidence against him, is revictimization. In this modern age, justice should not be tied to the marital status of the survivor.”

SB 59 is similar to AB 56. The main difference is that SB 59 changes the definition of rape from impersonating a “spouse” to impersonating a “sexual partner.” While AB 56 changes impersonating a “spouse” to impersonating “someone other than the accused.” Evans argued that AB 56 is overly broad.

“It basically becomes rape by misrepresentation,” she said. “The example might be somebody who is picking up a date in a bar, misrepresents who he or she is, misrepresents things about themselves that then induces the victim to have sexual relations with the perpetrator. I don’t think that’s where we want to go. The intent of the language in my bill is to address that issue where there already is an existing relationship and that is being used to perpetrate a rape.”

Keeping a lid on sentencing

The meeting began with Committee Chairwoman Loni Hancock, D-Oakland announcing that the committee’s six-year policy of “holding in committee bills that would increase felonies and the sentences connected with them” would continue in order to meet the court order to reduce state prison overcrowding.

“We recognize as legislators and as public advocacy groups, we care about the safety of our population,” she said. “And often times when a problem arises, all we can think of is an increased sentence or an additional felony. But there are other ways to think about solving these problems. States as diverse as Texas and Washington have made a decision that they cannot afford more prisons. They have adopted smart-on-crime policies, and we can do it here.”

Responded Sen. Joel Anderson, R-San Diego, “On behalf of Republicans on the committee we are committed to working for public safety. Public safety is paramount to California. If you can’t walk our streets and feel safe, then you’re not living in a free society. I would ask that the committee be very thoughtful in its approach and not allow this to become a partisan policy where Republicans always [have their bills held in committee] and Democrat bills don’t.”

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