A California man’s rape conviction was overturned by an appellate court in January because of a terrifying loophole in the state’s sexual assault law: the victim wasn’t married.
Now, thanks to a new law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown Monday, all women who are raped — not just married women — can get justice if an attacker impersonates their romantic partner to get consent for sex.
The loophole, which dates back to the 1870s, states that a person who impersonates someone else to get consent for sex is only guilty of rape if the victim is married.
In the January case, Julio Morales was initially convicted of rape and sentenced to three years in prison after the victim said that Morales entered a darkened room and impersonated her boyfriend. They began to have sex, and the victim didn’t realize Morales wasn’t her boyfriend until a ray of light hit his face, reports the Associated Press.
The victim resisted and began screaming and crying, reports the Los Angeles Times, and Morales ran away. Once he was gone, she locked the door and called her boyfriend, who then called police. She was 18 at the time of the attack, which took place in 2009.
The federal appeals court, based in Los Angeles, reluctantly ruled that Morales was not guilty of rape because of the 1870s loophole. From the decision, via the Times:
A man enters the dark bedroom of an unmarried woman after seeing her boyfriend leave late at night, and has sexual intercourse with the woman while pretending to be the boyfriend … Has the man committed rape? 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.
While the court overturned Morales’ rape conviction, they did send the case back for a retrial. They also urged legislators to close the disturbing loophole in California’s laws.
Incredibly, Assembly member Katcho Achadjian (R-San Luis Obispo) had been working on a bill since 2011 to close the loophole after a woman in his district was raped by someone impersonating her live-in boyfriend. Prosecutors couldn’t charge the alleged attacker with felony rape because of the outdated statute. Achadjian’s bill had been stalled in a Public Safety Committee in the Senate, but the Los Angeles court’s controversial decision renewed support for the proposed legislation. Assembly Bill 65, the bill that Gov. Brown signed into law on Monday, was co-sponsored by Assembly member Bonnie Lowenthal (D-Long Beach).
“While Assembly Bill 65 cannot undo what was done to the victims in the Santa Barbara and Los Angeles County cases, it is my hope that knowing that future victims will be protected will bring them a small amount of comfort,” said Assemblymember Achadjian in a press release.