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A coalition of feminist groups want to block sentencing bill inspired by Stanford rape case

A group of 25 feminist organizations wrote a letter to Governor Jerry Brown saying that imposing mandatory minimum sentences on rapists will deter future victims from coming forward and exacerbate overcrowding in prisons

by Tess Owen
Sep 12 2016, 6:50pm

Une photo de Brock Allen Turner sur le site du procureur général de l'Ohio. Handout via REUTERS

A coalition of 25 feminist organizations have written a letter to California's governor urging him to veto a bill which would impose mandatory minimum sentences on those convicted of rape.

The bill was drafted in the angry aftermath of the six-month sentence which a judge handed to Stanford student Brock Turner earlier this summer. It passed the state legislature with flying colors and not a single dissenting vote and now awaits Governor Jerry Brown's signature to become law.

But the feminist groups hoping to stop the bill say that punitive sentencing is the wrong way to solve the campus rape problem.

"We know firsthand that the consequences of rape are no less damaging for a victim who is unconscious than for a victim who is not," the letter says. "We also know that mandatory minimum-term laws are a harmful, mistaken solution to our rightful anger over the Brock Turner case and the many others like it."

If signed, the new law would mean that anyone convicted of raping a drunk or unconscious person would face a mandatory minimum sentence of three years.

Turner was discovered sexually assaulting an unconscious woman behind a dumpster outside a Stanford frat party, and was sentenced to six months in jail – a steep drop from the 14 years maximum sentence he was originally facing when first convicted. Turner was released last week after serving three months because of good behavior.

The assault, subsequence sentence and early release sparked a renewed discussion about campus rape, prompted outrage over the criminal justice system's handling of rape crimes, and put a spotlight on how laws can bend according to the race and class of a defendant.

"We, the undersigned survivors and allies, support Brock Turner's victim, whose experience with the criminal legal system has hit close to home for so many of us, and ask that you veto the bill, AB 2888, that has been passed in our name," the letter says.

If Brown were to sign the bill, it would be a dramatic departure from California's efforts to address the state's overcrowded prisons by shifting away from its reliance on mandatory minimum sentences. Proposition 47 was passed by California voters in November 2014 aiming to reduce drug possession felonies to misdemeanors.

"Mandatory minimums have not worked in response to the challenges posed by drugs in our society," said Michelle Anderson, the president of Brooklyn College and a leading scholar of rape law. "Mandatory minimums have not worked in response to challenges posed by other kinds of crime. There is no reason that mandatory minimums would work as a response to the real problem of sexual assault."

"I oppose the legislation," Anderson added. "I hope he [Governor Jerry Brown] does veto it....I think we have a history in this country of overreacting and overusing the criminal justice system. Feminists have been saying for years that mandatory punishments are not the right response to sexual violence."

Anderson's concerns echoed in the letter penned by the coalition of feminist organizations, which includes the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence and ACT for Women and Girls. "While some support this legislation in hopes that it will address racial biases in sentencing that worked in Turner's favor, mandatory minimums have in fact exacerbated racial and class disparities in prosecution."

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated Michelle Anderson's title. She is the president of Brooklyn College.