Audrie's Law Passes First Test

April 29, 2014

SACRAMENTO --  Audrie’s Law, a proposal to strengthen sanctions against sexual assaults and cyberbullying, was approved Tuesday by the Senate Public Safety Committee. Senate Bill 838, introduced by Senator Jim Beall, D-San Jose, was approved on a bi-partisan 5-0 vote.

“This bill corrects an omission in the law that treats the rape and sexual assault of an unconscious or developmentally disabled person as a lesser crime,’’ Beall said. “This bill is about equal justice and updating our sex offense laws to the 21st century by keeping up with the expanding use of social media.’’

Senate Bill 838 would close a statutory loophole that fails to recognize the sexual violation of an unconscious or developmentally disabled victim as forcible rape. It also proposes to change the California Welfare and Institutes code by adding a criminal sentencing enhancement if the offender electronically shares photos or messages regarding the crime to identify, harass, humiliate, or bully the victim. The Public Safety Committee amended the bill to set a minimum sentence of 2 years for juveniles who are convicted in juvenile court of raping an unconscious or developmentally disabled person and to allow such cases to be tried in an open courtroom.

Among those testifying in support of the bill were Audrie’s father, Larry Pott, and Christopher Arriola, Santa Clara County Supervising Deputy District Attorney.

“Rape is a crime against humanity,’’ Pott told committee members. “It destroys lives, always many more lives. than just the victim’s. It destroyed Audrie’s life. The number of friends and family members who have suffered because of this crime is incalculable. What we hope to accomplish in this hearing today, and by your passing of SB 838, is the saving of all these future pieces of lives.’’

Arriola said the bill was needed to not only provide justice for victims but to stop offenders from hiding their crimes from the community.

“The time has come to pull these predatory perpetrators out of the shadows and make the juvenile justice system live up to its promise to protect victims,’’ he said. “By allowing for increased penalties and a public forum for many of these cases everyone can be held accountable.’’

The bill has received support from around the world since its introduction in January. More than 5,500 people – from California to India – have signed a petition urging the committee to approve Audrie’s Law.

SB 838 now moves to the Senate Appropriations Committee, which will examine its potential fiscal impact. The bill requires a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to advance to the Governor’s desk.