“Audrie’s Law” stalled in the California State Assembly’s Committee on Public Safety this morning due to the growing opposition against the bill’s mandatory sentencing requirements for juveniles convicted of sexually assaulting unconscious or disabled victims.
Senator Jim Beall (D-San Jose), sponsor of the bill, held the vote until next week in order to seek out a compromise. The senator’s chief of staff, Cris Forsyth, confirmed that the mandatory two-year sentence was the source of contention, calling it a “deal breaker.”
Opponents to Audrie’s Law say mandatory sentencing for juveniles is unprecedented, as the juvenile system is meant to be rehabilitative, not punitive. “Mandatory sentences never happen in juvenile court because they are inherently punitive,” said Roger Chan, executive director of East Bay Children’s Law Office, who opposes the bill. “This is a real good example of a real terrible case used to create a real bad law.”
Audrie’s Law, SB 838, is named after Audrie Pott, a 15-year-old student at Saratoga High, who committed suicide after photos of her being sexually assaulted while passed out at a house party were circulated electronically in 2012, according to the authors of the bill. Three teenagers pleaded guilty in juvenile court and received 30 to 45 day sentences. They did not have to register as sex offenders.
The proposed law will establish a mandatory two-year out-of-home placement for juveniles convicted of sexually assaulting unconscious or disabled victims and open up juvenile court proceedings regarding certain sex crimes to the public.
According to Chan, there is a lot of evidence that shows rehabilitation actually works on juveniles and that mandatory sentencing prevents the juvenile justice system from fulfilling its mission to rehabilitate youth, not warehouse them.
Senator Beall was speaking with the family earlier today to see if they would be open to compromise, said Forsyth. A list of 19 organizations, from the American Civil Liberties Union to the Chief Probation Officers of California, oppose Audrie’s Law, according to the analysis report by the Assembly Committee on Public Safety, chaired by Assemblymember Tom Ammiano.
The bill was written by the Santa Clara District Attorney and has support from seven other organizations, including the California Police Chiefs Association and the California Protective Parents Association.
Brian Rinker is a Journalism for Social Change Fellow and a recent graduate from San Francisco State University’s journalism program.