Mandatory minimums—right call for rape cases

In light of convicted rapist Brock Turner’s embarrassingly short prison stint, the state of California passed a bill Aug. 29 preventing those convicted of rape from receiving probation or shortened sentences. The law closes a loophole allowing lesser sentences to be handed down in cases involving an unconscious victim and mandates prison time for all rape convictions.

Turner faced six years in prison, was sentenced to six months and only spent three of them behind bars for raping an intoxicated and unconscious woman behind a dumpster in front of two witnesses. Although he has to register as a sex offender—which will follow him forever—this is nowhere near the punishment he deserves.

Mandatory minimum sentences are controversial as they remove judicial discretion and fail to take special circumstances into account. It reflects a belief that harsh punishments will deter crime, which has no basis in fact.  They are commonly used in cases in the War on Drugs, and many activists fight against them because drugs crimes are complicated, making blanket sentences inappropriate.

Most forms of mandatory sentencing have formulas for computing the sentence, adding years for aggravating circumstances and subtracting them for mitigating ones, ensuring discretion still has a place in the criminal justice system.

In the case of rape, mandatory minimum sentences are rare but justified. Virginia has mandatory minimum sentences for those who sexually assault minors under 13 years old, and California has introduced its own minimum sentence law, but the country would benefit from having the majority of states pass their own versions of  this form of sentencing for rape cases.

It is already difficult to prove a rape case in court because of the nature of the crime, so when one is convicted, an adequate sentence is necessary. It is unacceptable for anyone who has committed sexual assault to go unpunished. The offenders made a conscious decision to violate someone else’s body. This is unlike mandatory minimum sentencing for drug cases, in which addiction plays a part, raising the question of whether the offender acted voluntarily, or if prison time would be a more effective solution than rehabilitation. A convicted rapist, however, has no plausible excuse.

Mandatory sentences, though, should be reserved for extreme crimes, and rape is always a crime that justifies it. In the case of sexual assault, it is a great step toward treating rape crimes with more severity, which will overall help combat rape culture. Though these sentences do not seem to work in the War on Drugs, it certainly seems to be right in line with the goals in fighting the War on Women.