Brown signs bill closing loophole in rape law

Gov. Jerry Brown, shown in August reviewing a bill with Legislative Affairs Secretary Gareth Elliott, has signed a bill that clarifies who can be prosecuted for rape and another that cracks down on prank calls to police.
(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

SACRAMENTO — Closing a loophole in California’s rape law, Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday signed a bill clarifying that an attacker who impersonates someone else to coerce a victim into sexual activity can be prosecuted for rape.

He also approved a measure cracking down on so-called swatting calls made by pranksters claiming false emergencies, often at celebrities’ addresses, to draw out police.

The rape bill was in response to a recent Court of Appeal decision that overturned the rape conviction of a Los Angeles County man. The court said his alleged victim had not been raped because she was unmarried and the attacker had impersonated her boyfriend after entering the dark bedroom where she slept.


The 18-year-old woman resisted the attack when she realized the man was not her boyfriend.

In overturning the rape conviction, the court cited a 19th century law that limits rape charges to cases in which married women are tricked.

Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal (D-Long Beach) and Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian (R-San Luis Obispo) drafted the new law, AB 65, to correct what they characterized as an injustice.

“Every victim deserves justice, regardless of their relationship status,” said Lowenthal, chairwoman of the Legislative Women’s Caucus.

Swatting incidents have struck several celebrities, including Justin Timberlake, Rihanna and Sean Combs. The bill Brown signed on the issue will increase the penalty for those convicted of the misdemeanor.

Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance), who was also a victim of such a prank, introduced the measure at the request of Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca. The bill, SB 333, will make those convicted of the prank responsible for full restitution, which Lieu said could total $10,000 or more.

“Swatting drains vital resources from law enforcement and puts officers and citizens in dangerous situations,” Lieu said.

Brown granted another Baca request by signing a bill allowing sheriffs to reduce time behind bars for nonviolent felons assigned to county jails if they complete classes aimed at rehabilitating them.

Two years ago, to reduce prison crowding, the state began diverting many nonviolent felons to county jails instead of sending them to state lockups. But those in county facilities have not had the opportunity, as they would have had in prisons, to earn credits off their sentences by taking self-improvement classes, including those to boost life skills and obtain a high school diploma.

The sheriff believes education reduces the chances that offenders will commit new crimes after being released, “and puts these people on a productive course for their lives,” said Steve Whitmore, a spokesman for Baca.

He said 17% of county inmates who successfully complete rehabilitation programs go back behind bars after one year, compared with 50% of inmates who do not go through the programs.

Assemblywoman Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) introduced the measure, AB 624. Republican lawmakers voted against it, saying that it allows criminals off the hook because they don’t serve their full sentences.

Also on Monday, Brown signed legislation making false impersonation on the Internet a form of domestic violence — one that can trigger a restraining order when a former spouse or romantic partner is involved.

Assemblywoman Nora Campos (D-San Jose) said some perpetrators of domestic violence harass their victims by falsely impersonating them on the Internet in ways meant to embarrass them. The bill is AB 157.

Brown approved another Campos bill as well: AB 161, barring domestic abusers from dropping spouses from their joint health, auto, life and disability insurance policies.