SACRAMENTO -- Opposition to a mandatory minimum sentence for juveniles who sexually assault unconscious victims delayed state lawmakers' consideration Tuesday of a measure named for a Saratoga teen who killed herself after such an attack.
A planned vote on "Audrie's Law" was rescheduled for next week by leaders of the Assembly Public Safety Committee in hopes that the San Jose lawmaker who authored the bill can strike a compromise with juvenile justice advocates who are fighting it.
Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, agreed to continue talks on his proposal, which won unanimous support from the Senate several weeks ago, but he stressed that lawmakers would be failing the people of California if they choose not to update the juvenile code.
"We need some criminal justice reform. We can't stay this way," Beall said. "We need to look ahead. We need to mandate treatment for people who commit these violent crimes."
Senate Bill 838 would broaden the definition of rape in California's criminal code for juveniles to include sexual assault of an unconscious or developmentally disabled person. It would also make cyberbullying a crime when photos or messages are used to embarrass, harass or intimidate others.
The legislation is named for Saratoga High School student Audrie Pott, a 15-year-old who killed herself in September 2012 a week after a drunken house party where she passed out, woke up and found crude messages scribbled on her half-naked body.
The three male classmates who assaulted Audrie and took photos of her were 16 at the time, and supporters of the legislation say a loophole in law allowed them to skate by with virtually no punishment. They received sentences of 30 to 45 days for the attack, and two of them served it on weekends.
Influential juvenile justice advocates -- including the San Francisco-based Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice -- agree that what happened to Audrie was horrific and that her assailants' punishment was unusually light considering the severity of the crime. But they said they will not support the proposed measure unless it's amended.
Audrie's Law would require juveniles who sexually assault an unconscious or developmentally disabled victim to serve at least two years at a juvenile detention center or ranch and to undergo sex offender treatment. The bill's opponents say this punishment is too tough and prescriptive.
"The goal of California's juvenile justice system is to get the youth back on the right track, and that goal won't be met with long periods of incarceration at a formative time in a youth's life," said Lizzie Buchen, a policy analyst with the juvenile justice center.
Audrie's family isn't buying that argument and doesn't want Beall to give an inch on the proposed sentencing requirements.
"We're not willing to budge on the two-year minimum," said Sheila Pott, Audrie's mother, who testified on Tuesday alongside Audrie's father, stepmother and grandmother.
"We can't just say that it's OK to drug your victims, OK to assault them, OK to photograph them and intimidate them and that all you'll get is a slap on the wrist," Sheila Pott said in an interview.
"They must realize that their behavior has to change, and there's no way it can in a 30- to 45-day period."