Audrie's Law Advances
SACRAMENTO – Audrie’s Law cleared the Assembly Public Safety Committee today after Sen. Jim Beall reached a compromise with committee members by removing a proposal for a two-year mandatory minimum sentence and replacing it with a requirement for stricter mandatory rehabilitative treatment program for juvenile sex offenders.
Senate Bill 838 maintains two key provisions: Cases prosecuted under Audrie’s Law will be open to the public and a one-year sentencing enhancement for adults who are convicted of any sexual assault in which the offender shares pictures or texts of the crime to harass or humiliate the victim.
The bill, if passed, would also require juvenile sex offenders to undergo mandatory rehabilitative treatment and counseling, which is not a requirement under existing law.
“We reached a middle ground with the committee on SB 838,’’ Beall said. “Ideally, I would have preferred keeping the mandatory minimum sentence but it would have put the bill in jeopardy and that would have meant losing the opportunity to improve public access to courtrooms as well as the one-year sentencing enhancement.
“This bill would not have gotten this far without the hard work and the perseverance of Audrie Pott’s family,’’ Beall said.
Audrie’s family – Lawrence and Lisa Pott, and Sheila Pott -- came to Beall seeking legislation to prevent the crime that happened to their daughter from happening to others. Audrie, a 15-year-old Saratoga High School student, committed suicide in 2012 after she was sexually assaulted while unconscious by classmates. Photos of the incident were shared with other students.
In the days leading up to her death, Audrie wrote on her Facebook page, “My life is ruined ... I am in hell ... The whole school knows ... My life is over....”
The assailants were tried in juvenile court behind closed doors where their identities were withheld from the public. The allegations of sexual assault against them were sustained. The boys received sentences of 30 to 45 days.
The outrage triggered by the sentences has spurred more than 144,000 people to sign a Change.org petition in support of Audrie’s Law.
Lawrence and Lisa Pott said they hope Audrie’s Law will bring about positive change by focusing more awareness on the issue of sexual assault against young people.
“We are grateful to Senator Beall and his team for their tireless efforts in getting this landmark legislation passed,’’ the couple said. “When this process first started we really felt as if we would get everything we wanted as the legislation -- including mandatory minimum sentences and the changing of the definition “rape” in California -- seemed to be so supported by the Senate and the Public in general as evidenced by the 35-0 floor vote and the over 144,000 signatures in support.
“What we have come to realize is that change takes time and it is better to achieve some change than to stay at status quo. The changes that have been enacted will hopefully shed new light on this terrible trend of sexual assaults of teens and young adults. Audrie’s Law, which includes the cyberbullying enhancement as well as the ‘public court option’ and the mandatory sex offender treatment program, will serve as a deterrent while increasing the public’s awareness of this horrific crime.
“We are hopeful that this will now move through the Assembly and onto Governor Brown’s desk smoothly. We are determined to continue fighting the evil with the good and we feel that this is a definite step in the right direction.’’
Sheila Pott, who appeared at today’s hearing, expressed her continued support for a minimum sentence for youths who rape unconscious or developmentally disabled victims.
“While we urge this committee to pass Audrie's Law without the mandatory minimum sentence for juvenile rapists, I would like to state for the record that we are terribly disappointed that a majority of this committee is not in support of a mandatory minimum sentence for juvenile sex offenders,’’ she said.
“More than 144,000 people signed a petition asking for a mandatory minimum. This legislation also sailed through the State Senate without any objection. But now it appears that a majority of this committee will stop the entire Assembly from voting on this bill simply because it includes a mandatory sentencing provision due to the philosophical belief that there should be no mandatory sentence for juvenile rapists. . . .
“We have a sexual assault problem in this country. We have a set of laws that tie the hands of our prosecutors. It is not an inept prosecution that resulted in Audrie's assailants getting 30 to 45 days in a juvenile setting. . . . However, the laws as currently enacted are simply inadequate to protect our communities from juvenile sexual predators.’’
Audrie’s Law now moves to the Assembly Appropriations Committee. The bill language was drafted by prosecutors in the Santa Clara County Office of the District Attorney.