A review of changes to California rape laws
A bill changing California rape laws in 2021 eliminated an exception for married people. This changed certain criminal defense strategies.
However, this bill — like many successful legislative efforts — had been in development for some time. Defense attorneys dedicated to keeping up with the law and following the legislature’s votes had ample time to prepare for this new paradigm.
The general changes to spousal rape law
Family sexual abuse, specifically spousal rape, is not an uncommon charge. Previously, it was possible that a court would handle rape against spouses differently than it would handle rape against unrelated persons.
After the governor signed the bill into law, this exception for spouses ceased to exist. The exception’s removal essentially eliminated the statutory distinction between spousal rape and any other type of rape, leveling the law.
A more detailed look at the bill
The bill, AB 1171 of the 2021-2022 regular session, had several sections, with the first being the most relevant to this discussion. This first section describes the previous law:
- It discusses the former definition of rape.
- It outlines the former, separate definition of spousal rape.
The bill then goes on to explain that it would repeal the separate definition. Instead of the two definitions, the bill would make conforming changes to the law to bring a spousal rape under the general umbrella of the rape definition, with certain, limited exceptions.
California is often at the vanguard of law. However, in this case, it was only one of 9 states that had separate spousal rape laws. It followed Idaho and Ohio in this reform.