In the wake of widespread outrage over the three months former Stanford University student-athlete Brock Turner will spend in jail after sexually assaulting an unconscious and intoxicated woman on campus last year, Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen announced Wednesday proposed legislation that would eliminate the possibility of probation and make years in prison mandatory for anyone convicted of the same crime.
Rosen characterized the new bill as concrete change demanded by the international reach of the now-viral letter written by the woman in the case, Emily Doe, whose name has been changed to protect her privacy.
Her letter "started a revolution" and demands real change, Rosen said at a press conference held on the steps of the Palo Alto courthouse where Turner was tried, convicted and sentenced. (Watch the press conference here).
"We've read her letter. Now let's give her back something beyond worldwide sympathy and anger," he said. "Let's give her a legacy that will send the next Brock Turner to prison. Let's give the next sexual-assault victim no reason to fear that her attacker will be walking around free after spending less time in jail than a college semester."
The proposed legislation would make the consequences for rape and sexual assault of an unconscious and intoxicated person the same as for a conscious person. Under current law, a person convicted of sexually assaulting a conscious person is not eligible for probation, while someone convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious person can be granted probation, as Turner was.
Based on Turner's young age, lack of a prior criminal record and other mitigating factors, Santa Clara County Court Judge Aaron Persky established a legal exception to give Turner three year's probation, in addition to six months in county jail which will be reduced to three with good behavior and lifelong registration as a sex offender. Turner had faced between two and 14 years in state prison given the three felony crimes he was found guilty of: assault with the intent to commit rape, sexual penetration with a foreign object of an intoxicated person, and sexual penetration with a foreign object of an unconscious person.
"Why, under the law, is a sexual assault of an unconscious woman less terrible than that of a conscious woman?" Rosen asked. "Is it less degrading? Is it less tragic, less traumatic? The fear and terror that accompanies the absence of memory of a sexual-assault victim should never be viewed as less serious than the fear and terror that a victim experiences during a recalled sexual assault."
The district attorney's legislation proposes attaching a mandatory prison sentence of three, six or eight years to the sexual assault of an unconscious person. Probation would no longer be a possibility, and it would be up to the judge's discretion to weigh mitigating factors such as previous criminal history and age to decide on a sentence within that range of three to eight years, 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 and a slap on the wrist to campus rapists," he said.
The proposed bill, AB2888, is being co-sponsored by California Assemblymen Evan Low, D-San Jose, and Bill Dodd, D-Napa, state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, and a "growing number of legislators," Rosen said. He called on other California legislators to join in support.
Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney Alaleh Kianerci, who prosecuted the Turner case, will attend hearings in Sacramento next week to testify, Rosen said.
The legislation, Rosen said, is reflective of a new, growing awareness around sexual assault.
"The reason that this law is important is it reflects a raising of our consciousness as a society," he said. "What this law reflects is saying that sexually assaulting an unconscious person is as serious as sexually assaulting a conscious person and there should be no distinction between those because rape is rape.
"For a long time let's be honest, for decades what happened on college campuses on Saturday nights was overwhelmingly swept under the rug. I think this legislation that we are proposing is a positive step to recognize the awareness that we have about sexual assault, something that will help to empower sexual-assault victims and survivors, something that will deter criminals and perpetrators, and something that we hope changes people's views about what to do in situations like this," Rosen added.
In response to a question from the media, Rosen said he continues to disagree with Persky's sentencing decision but does not believe he should be removed from the bench. After millions of people across the country signed multiple online petitions calling for his removal, Stanford law professor and sexual-assault reform advocate Michele Dauber launched an official recall campaign, backed by the Progressive Women of Silicon Valley PAC.
Rosen did, however, remove Persky from an unrelated sexual-assault case last week, stating that "we lack confidence that Judge Persky can fairly participate in this upcoming hearing." He described this move as "rare," only happening four or five times a year at most.
Dauber said in an interview Wednesday that she agreed with this decision given the fact that Persky's decision in the Turner case "reflected bias and was an abuse of discretion."
"Under California Constitution, the correct and lawful and appropriate way to handle that is by taking it to the voters," she said.
In the Turner case, Persky "gave the wrong sentence but he had the legal right to give it," Rosen said Wednesday.
"While I support judicial independence that's an important value accountability is also an important value," he added in response to a question about the recall effort.
He said his office would continue to look carefully at every case that comes before Persky, as it does for every judge.
Doe, Rosen said, supports the proposed legislation. He devoted part of his statement to reading words from her impact statement: "We should not create a culture that suggests that we learn that rape is wrong through trial and error. The consequences of sexual assault need to be severe enough that people feel enough fear to exercise good judgment even if they are drunk, severe enough to be preventative."
"Emily Doe sat down and wrote a letter that started an international dialogue," Rosen said. "She showed us the need for change. Now, what are we going to do? It's on us."