SACRAMENTO - California lawmakers advanced a bill Monday to close a legal loophole that allowed a rape conviction to be overturned because the woman was not married.
Julio Morales was initially convicted of impersonating the boyfriend of the woman so he could have sex with her while she was sleeping. California's 2nd District Court of Appeal overturned the conviction in January.
The court cited a state law dating to the 1870s that said perpetrators in such cases would be guilty only if the woman is married and the assailant is pretending to be the spouse.
In this case, the woman wasn't married and prosecutors said Morales pretended to be her boyfriend.
Defense attorneys said Morales believed the sex was consensual because the woman initially responded to his overtures and didn't know he was an impostor until she saw him in the light.
State Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, said her SB59 would fix the outdated statute. It would exchange the word "spouse" for "sexually intimate partner" in state law. That would expand the legal language to include people who do not fit into the definition of a spouse.
"Justice should not be conditioned on a victim's marital status or sexual orientation. I think we can all agree on that," Evans said, calling the bill long overdue.
Senators passed her bill on a 37-0 vote, sending it to the Assembly.
A similar bill failed to pass a Senate committee in 2011 because lawmakers feared it would add to crowding in state prisons.
Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, said he was frustrated that senators derailed that earlier bill by state Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian, R-San Luis Obispo, which could have corrected the law before this year's appeals court ruling.
"Public safety is not a partisan issue," Huff said, noting that majority Democrats are now hurrying to pass a bill by one of their own members.
Achadjian has a similar bill this year, AB65, which passed the Assembly and is awaiting consideration in a Senate committee.
Achadjian's 2011 bill was proposed after Santa Barbara County prosecutors said they couldn't file a felony rape charge against a man who broke into a woman's home while she was asleep. She consented to sex, thinking the man was her live-in boyfriend.
Once she realized it was a stranger, she resisted and he fled. He couldn't be charged with rape because the woman wasn't married, she consented, and the man wasn't pretending to be her husband.
In addition, senators also approved SB292 by Sen. Ellen Corbett, D-Hayward, that responds to a 2011 decision by the 1st District Court of Appeal dismissing a sexual harassment claim.
The bill sent to the Assembly on a 38-0 vote would make it clear that sexually harassing conduct need not be motivated by sexual desire to justify an employment-related sexual harassment claim.