The case of a Santa Barbara County intruder who could not be prosecuted for felony rape because his victim had a live-in boyfriend, not a husband, prompted the California state Assembly to pass legislation Monday to close that loophole.
The measure, Assembly Bill 765, was approved without a single no vote in response to perhaps one of the oddest rape cases in state history.
The identity of the woman involved has been kept confidential because she is a crime victim, but the following is an account of her attack from AB 765 and from Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce E. Dudley, who prosecuted the case:
The woman, in her early 30s, was asleep in her bedroom and her live-in boyfriend was asleep on a couch when the intruder entered at night through an unlocked front door, crawled into her bed and began initiating sex.
Thinking the man was her lover, the woman did not balk, until she heard her boyfriend cough from the other room. She then screamed. Her attacker ran toward the front door and was grabbed and hit by the boyfriend but escaped. He later was arrested.
Now the catch: California law would allow the intruder to be charged with felony rape, despite the victim’s consent, if the offender had impersonated the woman’s spouse — but not her live-in boyfriend.
The provision of Penal Code 261 applies when a “person submits under the belief that the person committing the act is the victim’s spouse, and this belief is induced by any artifice, pretense or concealment practiced by the accused.”
In the Santa Barbara case, which occurred in March 2009, there was an extenuating circumstance: The man also was wanted for three other sexual assaults, though none of the other cases involved penetration. He received a 17-year prison sentence.
AB 765 is sponsored by the Santa Barbara County district attorney’s office, which was frustrated by its inability to charge rape.
AB 765 by Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian, R-San Luis Obispo, simply would expand the penal code definition to include cohabitants.
“My heart goes out to the victim,” he said. “While no piece of legislation can heal the wounds associated with rape, I am hopeful that the continued success of this bill will bring her a small amount of comfort,” he said in a written statement.
AB 765, with bipartisan support, now goes to the state Senate.