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Prosecutor calls for mandatory prison for sexual assaults like Brock Turner’s

Brock Turner
Brock Turner was sentenced to six months in jail for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman.
(Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office)

Santa Clara County Dist. Atty. Jeff Rosen on Wednesday called for mandatory prison sentences for anyone convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious and intoxicated person.

Inspired by the victim in the Brock Turner case, the proposed law – which is supported by a growing number of legislators -- would require a mandatory prison sentence for such assaults and remove the option of probation.

“We are hoping to change hearts and to change minds and to change the law to protect the next Emily Doe against the next Brock Turner,” Rosen said at a news conference in Palo Alto.

Rosen’s announcement comes weeks after Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky sentenced Turner, a former Stanford University swimmer, to six months in jail for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman behind a dumpster on campus.

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Prosecutors said Persky had declared “unusual circumstances” in the case before sentencing Turner on June 2. Turner will serve half of his sentence due to California law.

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Persky’s sentence has triggered an angry response from those who say the punishment was too light and sets an ominous precedent for campus sexual assaults elsewhere. Many are now demanding that that California Commission for Judicial Performance remove the jurist. Others have launched a recall effort.

“The judge gave the wrong sentence but he had the legal right to give it, so we will start there,” Rosen said. “Why under the law is a sexual assault of an unconscious woman less terrible than that of a conscious woman? Is it less degrading?  Is it less tragic, less traumatic?”

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The victim’s 12-page letter, which she read in open court and has been read by senators on the floor of Congress, “started a revolution,” Rosen said.

“Since then her words have been read by millions,” he said. “It started a revolution of empathy and understanding. It has given solace to women who have suffered their own sexual assaults in silence. It has inspired tears at her struggles [and] admiration for her honesty and strength and perseverance.”

Not only did the victim’s letter strike a chord with millions, Rosen said it sparked fury and frustration “at those who continue to misconstrue these assaults as sex gone a little too far.”

“Her letter left us a painful yet powerful gift that demands something more than just a few minutes of our time,” he said. “It demands change.”

Assemblyman Evan Low (D-Campbell), Assemblyman Bill Dodd (D-Napa) and Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) worked with Rosen to craft the proposed law.

Dodd said he was “deeply disturbed” by Turner’s sentence.

“We need to send the message that sexually assaulting vulnerable victims who are intoxicated or unconscious is a serious crime,” Dodd said. “Letting a rapist off with probation and little jail time re-victimizes the victim, dissuades other victims from coming forward and sends the message that sexual assault is no big deal.”

Low said Persky’s ruling was “unjustifiable and morally wrong” but acceptable under the current law.

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“Rapists like Brock Turner shouldn’t be let off with a slap on the wrist,” he said.

Members of UltraViolet, a women’s rights advocacy group, said the law doesn’t go far enough in holding Perksy accountable. They said the proposal for mandatory minimum sentencing for rapists is not only bad policy generally, but also the wrong solution.

“Rosen’s proposal also does nothing to hold Judge Persky — a man who chose to protect a privileged white athlete and rapist over the survivor of his crimes — accountable for his decision,” the group’s co-founder, Nita Chaudhary, said in a statement.

When Turner was convicted by a jury in March, he faced a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison. Prosecutors asked the judge to sentence him to a six-year prison term for the three felony counts he was found guilty of: assault with the intent to commit rape of an unconscious person; sexual penetration of an unconscious person; and sexual penetration of an intoxicated person.

Later, his chief probation officer, Monica Lassettre, recommended a “moderate” sentence of county jail, three years of probation and sex offender treatment, according to a probation report.

In making her recommendations, which Persky signed off on before Turner’s sentencing, Lassettre considered his age, lack of criminal record, the impact of the crime on the victim, the safety of the community and “his expressed remorse.”

“This officer weighed the fact that this 20-year-old offender is now a lifetime sex registrant, his future prospects will likely be highly impacted as a result of his convictions, and he surrendered a hard-earned swimming scholarship,” she wrote in her report. “Perhaps, just as importantly, but sometimes overlooked, are the victim’s wishes as to the potential outcome.”

Describing himself as an “inexperienced drinker and party-goer,” Turner blamed a “party culture and risk-taking behavior” for his actions.

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Turner’s victim called the lack of a state prison sentence “a soft time-out, a mockery of the seriousness of the assaults.”

In the weeks following Persky’s decision, several potential jurors refused to serve in the judge’s courtroom because of his actions in the Turner case.

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UPDATES:

10:46 p.m.: This article was updated with additional comments from UltraViolet.

12:25 p.m.: This article was updated with comments from legislators.

This article was originally published at 11:52 a.m.


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