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High Court Rejects 3 Prison Terms in Multiple Rape Case

Times Staff Writer

The state Supreme Court ruled Monday that convicted rapists who sexually attack the same victim repeatedly may be sentenced to a single prison term of up to six years, and not separate terms for each rape.

The court unanimously reversed a trial court judge who sentenced John Henry Craft to three different prison terms of six years each, or 18 years, after he was convicted of raping a woman three separate times during a three-hour period in October, 1981.

Multiple rapes against the same woman that do not take place on separate occasions can be punished by consecutive six-year sentences, but the judge also has the option of imposing a six-year term for the first rape and terms of two years, or none at all, for each additional rape, the court said.

The court made the ruling retroactive, suggesting that it will affect many other cases in the court system.

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Two cases raising the same issue are pending before the court, including one in which the victim was 11 years old, and another in which the victim was deaf.

In Craft’s case, the victim, identified as Karen S., was driving from Stockton to a wedding party in San Jose when Craft grabbed her at a drive-in restaurant and raped her. He then threw her into her car, beat her and threatened to kill her. Later he forced her into the car trunk. She was raped two more times at about one-hour intervals before she was finally released.

The court concluded that a 1979 state statute aimed specifically at punishing violent sexual crimes was unclear. The law says judges must impose separate, consecutive prison terms if the rapes “involve separate victims or involve the same victim on separate occasions.”

The court, analyzing the term “separate occasions,” concluded that lengthier sentences can be meted out only when the rapist “temporarily lost or abandoned the opportunity to continue his attack.” In Craft’s case, the crimes were part of the same specific series, the court said.

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“Such opportunity is lost when the victim becomes free of any ongoing criminal activity; it is abandoned when the offender keeps the victim within his control but engages in some significant activity unrelated to continuing his attack,” Justice Stanley Mosk said, writing for the seven-member court.

Deputy California Atty. Gen. Maureen A. Daly said she was uncertain of the number of cases that will be affected by Monday’s ruling, but said it will apply to the most violent sex offenders.

“This is another example of the (Chief Justice Rose Elizabeth) Bird court making a statutory interpretation without regard for legislative intent or will of the people,” Daly said. “The result does not ensure that punishment will always be commensurate with culpability.”


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