SAN JOSE -- Just months after three Saratoga High School boys were punished in juvenile court for photographing and sexually assaulting 15-year-old classmate Audrie Pott, new legislation is being introduced in her name that would make the crime easier to charge in adult court with harsher penalties.
Senate Bill 838 would also make cyberbullying a crime -- a felony in some cases -- when photos or electronic messages are used to embarrass, harass or intimidate others. It would be illegal to both post the offensive material online or just share or show it to others.
Audrie's mother, Sheila Pott, along with State Sen. Jim Beall and Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen will introduce "Audrie's Law" during a news conference planned for Friday morning.
"What happened to Audrie must not happen again,'' Beall said in a statement. "As a long-time advocate for children, I believe this new legislation will bring justice for victims and update the law to make it relevant to our 21st century 'connected' society.''
Audrie killed herself in September 2012, a week after she drank too much vodka-laced Gatorade at a house party, passed out and woke up to find crude messages scribbled on her half naked body. Facebook messages she sent out looking for answers the next week suggested she knew photos had been taken and "the whole school knows."
The boys were charged in juvenile court, so their names and the charges against them were kept secret under the current law. This newspaper, however, uncovered that the boys were charged with multiple felonies, including sexual assault for digitally penetrating Audrie and possessing sexually explicit photos of her.
One of the teens, who transferred to Christopher High School in Gilroy, was sentenced in December to 45 days in juvenile hall. The other two boys, who still remain students at Saratoga High, were sentenced to 30 days each, which they served on weekends -- a punishment that Pott's stepmother says amounted to little more than "Saturday detention."
The proposed law would make it easier for prosecutors to bring adult charges -- with potential prison time -- against juvenile suspects who sexually assault victims who are too intoxicated or mentally impaired to fight back. Under current law, only a short list of crimes committed by juveniles, including murder and "rape with force," can be charged directly in adult court. The proposed legislation also would open juvenile court hearings involving crimes like the one committed against Audrie.
"Victims of sexual assault and their families are no less devastated because the offender was a juvenile," District Attorney Jeff Rosen said in a statement. "Audrie's legacy, through this proposed law, will protect victims' rights by making the consequences of cyberbullying more severe."
The proposed legislation is "moderate and reasonable," says Barry Krisberg, a juvenile justice expert and senior fellow at UC Berkeley law school..
"What we see here are some necessary fixes to the current law," Krisberg said Thursday.
Some past legislation, proposed after sensational crimes "went overboard and ended up being a Trojan horse for what I would call extremely conservative reforms."
But in the case of the proposed "Audrie's Law," he said, "this law is very targeted on specific problems."
The reforms would require a two-thirds vote among legislators, because it would amend Proposition 21, which closed most types of juvenile court proceedings to the public. But Krisberg believes it has an "excellent chance" of passing.
Contact Julia Prodis Sulek at 408-278-3409. Follow her at twitter.com/juliasulek