Richmond rape prompts move to hold witnesses accountable

In response to the October rape of a 16-year-old girl at Richmond High School, a state assemblyman from Santa Barbara on Wednesday announced new legislation that would hold witnesses accountable for not reporting violent crimes.

Assemblyman Pedro Nava, D-Santa Barbara, plans to introduce AB 984, which he says would close a loophole in state law. Under current law, authorities are only allowed to hold witnesses accountable for not reporting murders, rapes or other violent crimes if the victim was younger than 14 years old, Nava said.

The bill, which will be introduced in the Assembly later this week or at the beginning of next week, would remove the age threshold from that 1999 law. Violations of the law are considered misdemeanors and are punishable by up to six months in jail and a maximum fine of $1,500, Nava said.

The bill was a response to “a general sense of outrage that so many people witnessed this violent assault on someone who was blameless and failed to report it,” he said.

The rape occurred Oct. 24 outside Richmond High School's homecoming dance. As many as 10 people robbed, beat and raped the 16-year-old girl for two and a half hours in a secluded area of the campus while as many as a dozen others stood by and watched, police said.

Six suspects have been charged in connection with the rape, but Nava said Richmond police “expressed a great deal of frustration because the victim was 16, so they didn't have the ability to use the existing statute to compel cooperation from witnesses at the scene.”

Although a lack of cooperation is a problem in many cases, Nava said that with more people than ever using video cameras or taking videos and photos on cell phones, it is fairly easy to establish who was at the scene of an incident like the Richmond rape.

He said that in his talks with law enforcement agencies, the 1999 statute is “a very useful tool in obtaining cooperation from witnesses” and he thinks “this is a reasonable expansion that will be helpful in seeing that justice is done for victims of violent crimes.”

The bill is being fast-tracked through the Legislature using a “gut and amend” process that takes out the entire contents of a prior bill
and replaces it with something new, Nava said.

Nava said he doesn't anticipate much opposition to the bill, which could be signed by the governor and put into effect as soon as January 2011.

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