On Friday, a bill that would provide underage drinking and drug use amnesty for victims of sexual assault unanimously passed the Senate Public Safety Committee, paving the way for ultimate passage in a Senate vote in August.
An immunity from drug and alcohol charges in sexual assault cases
Assembly Bill 1927, authored by Assemblywoman Tasha Boerner Horvath (D-Encinitas), would allow a victim or witness of sexual assault, such as sexual battery and rape, who used or were in possession of a controlled substance or alcohol at the time of the crime to not be charged with any crime surrounding the controlled substances or alcohol. The fact that a witness had or used alcohol or drugs would not be excluded during a sexual assault trial. The witness receiving an immunity from drug or alcohol charges would also not be excluded during trial
Any drug or alcohol use by the accused in a sexual assault case would not be excluded during trial, with amnesty only being given to witnesses and the victim.
Assemblywoman Boerner Horvath had authored AB 1927 as a way for more sexual assault victims to not feel pressured or scared not to report such an incident. The Assemblywoman cited a Bureau of Justice Statistics report that found that a majority of sexual assaults go unreported in the United States, with around 80 percent of sexual assaults against college students, and 67 percent of non-students, being unreported.
“We all know too well that sexual assault is the most underreported violent crime in America. Many victims and survivors do not come forward for fear of retaliation, even fear of being blamed for the assault,” said Assemblywoman Boerner Horvath after the Senate Committee vote on Friday. “This bill will empower them to report the abuse without fear of prosecution. Today’s vote brings us closer to extending the same amnesty already provided on college campuses to sexual assault victims and witnesses throughout California.”
Widespread and bipartisan support for AB 1927
Many District attorneys and police departments in California, almost always opposed such crime amnesties, also gave support to AB 1927.
“The last thing we want is for the criminal justice system to re-victimize people who bravely come forward to report crimes,” explained San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan. “We can’t continue to have a system which treats victims like criminals for using the very same drugs or alcohol which often are fueling their abusers’ crimes.”
The California Globe also spoke with retired police detective Al Wilkes in Los Angeles about such an amnesty coming into place.
“This is important,” noted Wilkes. “I can’t tell you how many times I was called to a scene that was almost certainly a rape, but we had to back out of because the girl was afraid of being charged with something else. This was in the 80’s and 90’s when drug laws had a lot of weight to them. On some of those scenes I remember smelling a faint remnant of marijuana. Others it was an under 21-year-old clearly still somewhat drunk only barely hanging onto not being charged with underage drinking.”
“And those were just the ones I was called out to. I’ve seen the statistics on rapes and similar crimes, and I can say just through years on a force, if we could say to them that they wouldn’t get into any trouble for drugs or drinking then they would have cooperated more. Looking back, some of them even asked if it was possible. Many really wanted to, but they also didn’t want a criminal record or being kicked out of college.”
Many colleges, including the University of California, currently have such amnesty laws on the books, but only hyper-locally to their campuses.
AB 1927 is widely expected to pass the Senate vote and be signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom in August.