Politics, government and public life for Southern California

CA lawmakers move to amend rape loophole in 1872 law

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California Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg is shepherding a bill through the legislature to update a rape law that's been on the books since 1872.

Members of the Senate Public Safety Committee voted 6-0 Tuesday to advance a bill that would change a “historic anomaly” in California law that makes it a felony to rape someone by impersonating their spouse, but doesn’t apply to unmarried people.

Lawmakers vowed to amend the 1872 law to protect all victims after a court of appeals threw out the rape conviction of Julio Morales early this year. 

Morales was a guest at the home of an 18-year-old woman in 2009. She was asleep in her bedroom when he entered and began having sex with her. The victim awoke, but initially mistook Morales for her boyfriend.  She resisted when she realized he wasn't. 

In January, California's 2nd District Court of Appeals threw out Morales' rape conviction. The ruling said Morales could not be charged with rape in this circumstance because his victim was single.

"Has the man committed rape?" Justice Thomas Willhite wrote in the Second Appellate District Court's opinon. "Because of historical anomalies in the law and the statutory definition of rape, the answer is no, even though, if the woman had been married and the man had impersonated her husband, the answer would be yes."

SB59 would change that. 

The bill amends California’s penal code by replacing the word “spouse” with the term “sexual partner” to make rape through fraud or impersonation a crime, regardless of the victim's marital status.

Senate Pro Tem Darrel Steinberg (D-Sacramento) fast-tracked the bill.  It heads next to Senate Appropriations.  If enacted, S59 would take effect immediately.


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