In the past few months, three important changes have come about in the law determining how California handles sexual assault cases. It is vital for citizens to stay informed of legal changes and the rights that accompany them. These laws are a direct result of several high-profile sexual assault cases that have been covered by the media in the last six months, such as those of Brock Turner and Bill Cosby; however, these laws apply to every victim and citizen of California.
1) Senate Bill 813 – Victims can now prosecute offenders at any point in their lives.
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Senate Bill 813 (SB-813) was approved as a law by Governor Jerry Brown on September 28, 2016. Originally named the “Justice for Victims Act,” it was introduced into the California Senate for consideration on January 4, 2016. The Senate approved the bill on June 1, 2016 and the Assembly passed it on August 18, 2016. This law was inspired by the sexual assault allegations from the 1960s that have been brought against Cosby but can no longer be prosecuted due to the statute of limitations.
SB-813 removes the statute of limitations for California sex offenses. A statute of limitations is a time limit for prosecution of a crime — after the time has expired, people can no longer prosecute an offender in court. Previous law stated that if victims wanted to press charges for a sex crime, they were required to do so within 10 years of the crime. However, this law only applies to crimes committed after January 1, 2017. All sex offenses committed before this date are still subject to the 10-year statute of limitations.
2) Assembly Bill 2888 – Mandatory prison sentence for certain types of sex offenses.
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Assembly Bill 2888 (AB-2888) was approved as a law by Brown on September 30, 2016. First proposed to the Assembly on February 29, 2016, it was passed as a bill on August 18, 2016. This law was proposed before Turner’s sentencing, but it likely passed by such a wide margin because of the public outrage over the lack of a prison sentence for Turner.
AB-2888 calls for an immediate and mandatory prison sentence for people who have been convicted of sexually assaulting a person who is “unconscious or unable of giving consent due to intoxication.” The new mandatory minimum for such cases is now three years. The law goes into effect January 1, 2017.
3) Assembly Bill 701 – Broader definition of rape.
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Assembly Bill 701 (AB-701) was first proposed as a bill on February 25, 2015 and was approved as a law on September 30, 2016. It extends the definition of rape to encompass various other forms of sexual assault. Ultimately, it more broadly fits the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s revised definition of rape (2013). This law goes into effect immediately. AB-701 is an important law because it allows for higher charges to be pressed in more sexual assault cases, and it validates the experience of “non-traditional” rape victims, such as men. Similarly to AB-2888, AB-701 likely passed so unanimously because of the intense coverage of “People v. Turner,” in which Turner was not charged with raping his victim because there had been no genital-on-genital contact. A junior at M-A, who wishes to remain anonymous, believes that “these laws will encourage more people to come forward… they reduce the stigma with sexual assault and validate people’s experiences.”
We also asked M-A junior Jace Ambwani about her opinions on the legal changes that have occurred as of late.
These three new laws demonstrate major progress on the part of California’s government. They are long overdue and will most certainly help future sexual assault victims. Citizens should know their rights and be aware of changes in the law at all times, especially in crimes that are so prevalent in our society.