Tag Archives: California

Are California's rape laws in need of overhaul?

This is pretty shocking. A state appeals court has just overturned the rape conviction of a man alleged to have pretended to be a woman’s boyfriend and then had sex with her.

See the American Bar Association Journal’s take here: “California appeals court rules sex by impersonation is not rape when the woman is unmarried.”

What’s most interesting about this isn’t the overturning of the conviction. It’s the reason the court did so. I am not familiar enough with this particular case out of Riverside County to have any sort of opinion on whether the defendant actually was guilty of the crime. There very well may be sufficient evidence to prove he was wrongfully convicted. I’m not going to even pretend to have full knowledge of that. However, the issues the case brings up about the current anomalies in state laws are incredibly interesting.

Here’s the thing: apparently the state’s current rape laws are written so that technically, a man who impersonates a woman’s boyfriend to have sex with her is not considered to be guilty of rape. However, were she married and he pretended to be her husband to have sex with her, that would be considered rape.

From the 2nd District Court of Appeals’ decision:

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.”

Just think about this for a minute. Pretty mind-blowing, right? The state’s law clearly needs re-writing if it can be used in such a manner. The statute uses the word spouse. Is spouse in this case only narrowly defined as the person to whom you are legally married? What about domestic partnerships?

See the court’s full decision here.

The prosecution relied on two theories to convince jurors that rape was committed. One of the theories had to do with the woman being asleep, and the second had to do with the idea that it was rape because trickery/impersonation was involved. The appeals court’s ruling essentially says that the latter theory can’t support a rape conviction because of the way the law is currently written. The prosecution may only retry the case on the former theory, the appellate justices wrote.



Dreaming of a white Christmas

It’s ten days before Christmas and I am beyond far behind on preparations. I never got a tree, much as I wanted to this year. I only managed to light the menorah for five of the past eight nights because I wasn’t home. I never got my cards together. I haven’t even begun to put together packages to send back east. Frankly, I am completely lacking in Christmas spirit. This isn’t atypical for me. It’s been a long time since I liked Christmas. Most years I find myself feeling like Charlie Brown, wondering just what precisely the point of Christmas is. I get overwhelmed by the commercialism, the pressure, the feeling of trying to cram activities into busy schedules. And don’t get me started on Christmas music. I hate Christmas music. Hate it. The one exception might be “Last Christmas,” but that’s simply because, well, how you can you ever go wrong with Wham!?

This year marks the second Christmas I will spend away from my loved ones on the east coast, much to my great chagrin. I’m sure this has a lot to do with my particular apathy toward the holiday this year. However, I believe it also has a lot to do with the weather. Christmas and snow, ice and cold weather and inextricably intertwined. It’s nearly impossible for me to be thinking about the holidays when it is still warm enough to walk on the beach. I mean, I don’t even have to worry about scraping ice off my windshield here, or thawing the icicles in my hair before I go into work. I imagine that after living here long enough, you overcome this mental block. I’m curious to know exactly how long it will take me. A year and a half is definitely not long enough.


This weekend, I finally felt my first California earthquake. Saturday, around midnight, we heard our glasses shaking in the cupboards and felt a rumbling of the floor.

Sure enough, it was a small quake. It’s silly, but I felt a funny sense of pride and joy having finally felt one.

From the odd files: County says no to pot dispensary's signs

While heading to the city this past weekend, I chuckled at the large signs posted on Highway 17 near the Summit touting “Herbs, $125 an ounce” flanked by the green crosses that signify medical marijuana.

A co-worker also spotted it and got a chuckle. Apparently though, a lot of people weren’t laughing at the signs. In fact, county officials made Santa Cruz Mountain Herb owner Daniel Hwang remove the signs this week.

County supervisors said the signs violated local ordinances pertaining to advertising of medical marijuana.

Parole suitability hearings

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation makes available transcripts of parole suitability hearings a month after the hearing is held. They can often be very interesting to read through, providing insight as to what leads parole board commissioners to make the decision whether or not to grant parole.

Last month, parole officials opted to grant parole to Kenneth Luther, who was convicted of shooting another man to death in Aptos during a robbery in 1986. I wrote about the hearing briefly here.

Here’s the transcript of the hearing for anyone who may be interested:
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Upstate NY company suing over foie gras ban

A company based in upstate New York — Hudson Valley Foie Gras — is among the parties that have filed a lawsuit against the state of California seeking to overturn the foie gras ban. HVFG is based not far from where I did my undergraduate work.

The suit seeks a preliminary injunction, which would allow foie gras to remain on the market while the issue’s in the court system. You can read the full complaint here.

Another of my former stomping grounds, the city of Chicago, tried a similar ban a few years ago but it was later overturned after a veritable foodie revolt. Similar attempts have stalled in New York state, home to two of the U.S.’s three foie gras producers.

It should be interesting to see how it shakes out here in the Golden State.

a civil grand jury?

Today I learned that in California, there are civil grand juries that are unlike anything I’m used to.

In California counties, the Civil Grand Jury serves to “scrutinize the conduct of public business of County government.” Basically,  it’s watchdog group comprised of 19 members who serve for a period of one year from July through June 30 of the following year. The jurors investigate the operations of the various officers, departments and agencies within the government of their respective county. Each grand jury determines which officers, departments and agencies it will investigate during its term of office.

The Santa Cruz County Civil Grand Jury issued its report for the 2011-2012 term today.

I was fairly baffled by this, with good reason, perhaps, since this seems to be a uniquely California thing.

According to some reports, such as the not-for-profit Grand Jury Foundation, “No state has authorized grand juries the range of civil investigative authority that the institution has at its disposal in California. No statutory authority exists for a grand jury for California State government.”

We have grand juries in New York state but they serve a completely different purpose.  In my home state,  “No person can be put on trial for a crime prosecuted in the Supreme or County Court until after a grand jury has found a bill of indictment.” The grand jury hears evidence in a case and determines whether there’s sufficient evidence to hold the person to the charges and take the case to trial. In California, this process is accomplished by holding a preliminary hearing. Preliminary hearings are held sometimes in some New York courts, but it’s rare, and it’s a little different than here in California. Back there, a preliminary hearing is usually heard before a judge even before an arraignment.

So there ya go. You learn something new everyday. It’s been so interesting to me to learn all of the various, nuanced differences between the legal systems in various states.