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Tougher Punishment on Sex Crimes May Unfairly Affect Minorities in California

Posted by Seth Chazin | Feb 03, 2017 | 0 Comments

High-profile sex crime cases, including the case of former Stanford University swimmer Brock Turner, have spurred a number of bills now before California Governor, Jerry Brown. Some bills would provide tougher penalties and repercussions against defendants in sex crimes cases, including a bill that would remove the statute of limitations on certain sex crimes. (See: Penal Code Section 261 for Rape)

Also see Penal Code Section 261.5

Another proposed bill would increase the penalties for sex traffickers and Johns (see Penal Code Section 236 for Human Trafficking and also Penal Code Section 266 for Pimping and Pandering) Politicians are also calling for mandatory minimum sentences for offenders who have been convicted of sexually assaulting someone who is unconscious or intoxicated (see Penal Code Section 261 for Rape).

Additionally, California lawmakers are seeking to expand the number of crimes considered “violent” under the California Penal Code (see Penal Code Section Section 667.5 for Violent Felony Offenses and also enhancement of prison terms for new offenses because of prior prison terms)

(See for ex. Penal Code section 243.4 and Penal Code Section 288(a) for Lewd Acts with a Minor).

Unfortunately, these policies increasing punishment likely will affect California's minorities most, and on top of that allow less room for intervention and rehabilitation. Recent criminal justice reform movements, including the Black Lives Matter movement, have exposed the issues of race and class in connection with the criminal justice system  and mass incarceration. In particular, research has revealed that heavy sex crime punishments are disproportionately applied to black and Latino men, which in turn negatively affect families in communities already riddled with gun and gang violence.

The American Civil Liberties Union spoke out against these bills and was one of the few opponents of a proposal that would allow young human trafficking victims to testify in cases through closed-circuit televisions (see Penal Code Section 236.1 on Human Trafficking)

Natasha Minsker, director of the ACLU California Center for Advocacy and Policy, said the bills hurt vulnerable populations by continuing “a pattern of higher and higher penalties for sex offenders, broader definitions of what is a sex crime, removing due process protections that apply in the trials of sex cases and making it easier to convict people with harsher consequences.”

Many public policy analysts, advocates and lawyers, have realized that incarceration cannot be the primary solution to combat sexual assault and that the legislation proposed will adversely affect vulnerable populations in San Francisco, the Bay Area, and California as a whole.

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About the Author

Seth Chazin

Seth P. Chazin has aggressively defended clients in thousands of felony and misdemeanor cases for over 25 years. He has extensive experience representing criminal defendants in federal and state court, while handling both state and federal appeals as well.

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