OpEd: Legislation offers justice to victims of rape

We fundamentally believe that justice for rape victims should never have an expiration date.

By Connie M. Leyva and Michael A. Ramos

Over 30 years ago, a young woman was kidnapped and violently raped in a nearby Southern California county. Though there was no known suspect for many years, a suspect was finally identified through a DNA hit which gave the survivor hope that the rapist would finally be held accountable.

Unfortunately, by the time the rape kit was tested and the suspect identified, the statute of limitations on rape had run out — which is only 10 years in most cases in California.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, only two in 100 rapists will be convicted of a felony and spend any time in prison. The other 98 percent will never be punished for their crimes. The fact that the vast majority of rapists will never see the inside of a prison cell is motivation enough for us to fight against this gross injustice and finally change this California law once and for all.

As the author and co-sponsor of the “Justice for Victims Act,” we fundamentally believe that justice for rape victims should never have an expiration date. Senate Bill 813 would correct this long-standing injustice by preventing rapists and sexual predators from evading legal consequences simply because of a seemingly arbitrary statute of limitations.

Prosecutors would still have to meet the very high burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt in order to convict and send a rapist to prison. This bill would simply offer survivors more time to come to terms with the horrible crime committed against them, summon up the courage to reach out to authorities and then give prosecutors the time necessary to collect and prepare evidence in advance of filing formal charges against the assailant.

SB 813 is currently in the final stages of its legislative journey and will then hopefully — in the coming days — reach Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk where he will consider signing the bill into law. The “Justice for Victims Act” has earned strong bipartisan support in both the Senate and Assembly, with many legislative co-authors and committed supporters strongly backing the measure. We thank California Women’s Law Center Executive Director Betsy Butler, women’s rights attorney Gloria Allred, Assemblyman Mike Gipson and countless other supporters for standing squarely on the side of justice for victims.

SB 813 solidly reinforces California’s commitment to standing with women, as they represent the vast majority of rape and sexual assault survivors. It also clearly articulates our obligation to promote public safety, protect our neighborhoods and communities and ensure justice for all. This bill has provoked strong passions and many tears along the way, but all with the ultimate hope that SB 813 will finally right this wrong that has shut the doors of justice in the face of far too many rape victims in years past.

As elected officials representing the Inland Empire, we both remain committed to fighting for safer homes and communities — and the “Justice for Victims Act” is a vital part of creating a more responsive and just legal system that fights to protect the rights of victims across our great state.

State Sen. Connie M. Leyva, D-Chino, represents the 20th Senate District. Michael A. Ramos is San Bernardino County district attorney; he is president of the National District Attorneys Association and is one of three members appointed by the governor to the California Victim Compensation Board.

This OpEd originally appeared in the San Bernardino Sun

San Bernardino County District Attorney Named President of the National District Attorneys Association

I am honored to have earned the support of my colleagues and given the opportunity to represent the thousands of elected District Attorneys across our great nation. My intent is to work with my fellow District Attorneys and utilize this position to continue to fight for justice and victims’ rights at a national level.
— Mike Ramos, San Bernardino County District Attorney

Click here to read full press release.

IN THE NEWS: In San Bernardino, a Plea for Tolerance — Not Trump’s Terror Politics

That’s what Donald Trump needs to know. I truly believe if we are going to be a society that is civilized — what made America great to begin with — we need it to be inclusive, not exclusive.
— Mike Ramos, San Bernardino County District Attorney

The street where a shootout last December ended the deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11 is very familiar to Michael Ramos, San Bernardino County’s first Hispanic district attorney: It’s the same one where he grew up, in a house built by his grandfather, an immigrant from Mexico.

That’s why Ramos, a Republican who faces his own long-shot bid for state attorney general in liberal-rich California, is pushing back against the GOP’s presumptive nominee, Donald Trump, for politicizing his hometown’s tragedy. A married couple inspired by Islamic extremists went on a shooting spree in the chaparral and strip-mall strewn Southern California community, leaving 14 people dead.

“I won’t ever use the victims for political reasons,” Ramos said Saturday, even as he acknowledged the San Bernardino attacks have strengthened his name recognition statewide.

“Before, when people would ask where I was from, I would say between LA and Palm Springs,” he said. “Now I don’t have to say a word … everybody in the world knows where San Bernardino is. I wouldn’t wish that on any county in America.”

Ramos, his county’s chief prosecutor, has made public vigilance and victims rights a key part of his campaign. But as California votes in Tuesday’s presidential primary — the largest and one of the last in the U.S. campaign — Ramos underscored the state’s diversity as a strength, not a security vulnerability. In San Bernardino County alone, 51.7 percent of the population is Hispanic or Latino, and 21.3 percent is foreign born.

For Trump, on the other hand, name recognition has never been an issue. Cheering crowds and jeering protesters have met his campaign stops throughout California before Tuesday’s vote. 

Click here to read the full story.

IN THE NEWS: Gov. Brown's parole measure can go on November ballot, state Supreme Court rules

“I understand where the governor is coming from, but generally speaking this initiative is going to put career criminals back on the streets.”
— Mike Ramos, District Attorney

Gov. Jerry Brown wants voters to approve a plan designed to reduce the state's prison population. (Associated Press)

by Maura Dolan and Paige St. John

Californians likely will be asked to decide in November whether to expand parole to thousands more inmates in what would be the state’s biggest change in sentencing law in decades.

The proposed reworking of the parole system cleared a key hurdle Monday, when the California Supreme Court ruled 6-1 that the proponents of a ballot measure backed by Gov. Jerry Brown did not violate a state election law. The ruling, a victory for Brown, gives the attorney general wide latitude to accept last-minute, major changes to proposed initiatives.

If enough petition signatures are validated, a measure would be placed on the fall ballot to allow a parole board to consider early release for thousands of inmates not currently eligible for parole -- a step Brown has said is needed to comply with a federal court order to reduce the prison population.

Brown’s proposal is the latest of several recent measures intended to reduce lengthy sentences in the state. In 2011, the state shifted lower-level prison felons to county jails, worsening local overcrowding and forcing widespread local releases but only temporarily reducing the prison population.

A year later, voters passed a measure to limit the tough three-strikes sentencing law.  A third strike must be violent to justify a life sentence.

In 2014, voters adopted a measure that reduced some felonies to misdemeanors. Certain drug possession felonies became misdemeanors, as did petty theft, receiving stolen property and writing bad checks for less than $950. That measure led to the release of 4,000 inmates.

But Brown’s proposal goes further. Nearly four decades after signing a law requiring strict sentences — a move that Brown now laments had “unintended consequences”— he wants voters to permit a possible early release on parole of felons whose primary crime was nonviolent.

The tough-on-crime laws of previous decades, including the one Brown signed, produced severely overcrowded prisons, and the state is under a federal court mandate to bring down the prison population.

To accomplish this, Brown would vastly expand parole opportunities.

Inmates would be eligible for parole after serving only the sentence for their core crime, negating time tacked on for gang membership, a gun or prior offenses.

Inmates would also receive increased credits for good behavior, and a judge, instead of a prosecutor, would decide whether to try someone as young as 14 in juvenile court or adult court.

“By allowing parole consideration if they do good things, they will then have an incentive … to show those who will be judging whether or not they're ready to go back into society,” Brown said in announcing his plan.

The conservative Criminal Justice Legal Foundation has estimated that 42,000 inmates would be eligible for early parole under the initiative.

Under threat of court-ordered mass releases, the state now relies on contracts to hold thousands of inmates in private prisons as far away as Mississippi. But the prison population is once again rising, after reaching a low of 127,272 in February.

A year ago the governor telephoned Mike Ramos, the chief prosecutor for San Bernardino County, telling him: "We've got a problem. Your county is sending too many people to prison."

Ramos said he tried to discourage Brown from launching what would be another major shock wave to local law enforcement agencies.

"I understand where the governor is coming from," Ramos said, "but generally speaking this initiative is going to put career criminals back on the streets."

Click here to read the rest of the story.

Advocates for Death Penalty Reform and Savings Act of 2016 Submit Signatures for November Ballot

From Right to Left: Former NFL Player and Advocate Kermit Alexander, Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin, San Bernardino County District Attorney Mike Ramos, San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon and Advocate Tami Alexander

From Right to Left: Former NFL Player and Advocate Kermit Alexander, Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin, San Bernardino County District Attorney Mike Ramos, San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon and Advocate Tami Alexander

The Californians for Death Penalty Reform & Savings campaign will submit 585,000 signatures across the state’s 58 counties on Thursday to qualify the initiative for the November ballot. This initiative will save taxpayers millions of dollars per year, assure due process protections for those sentenced to death and promote justice for murdered victims and their families.

Press conferences were held today across the state where local law enforcement, District Attorneys, victim advocates, and community leaders will gather to educate the community on the facts and effects of this initiative. 

Five San Bernardino County Supervisors endorse Mike Ramos for California Attorney General

The Join Mike Ramos for Attorney General Campaign announced today that all five members of the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors endorsed Ramos' bid to be the next California Attorney General, further demonstrating the campaign's strength.

Mike Ramos will be a leader with a bold voice willing to stand up for victims’ rights. As District Attorney, he has fought hard against gangs, tackled public corruption and worked collaboratively behind the scenes to prevent future victims.
— Chairman of the Board James Ramos

San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors endorsing Ramos include:

  • James Ramos, Chairman and Third District Supervisor
  • Robert A. Lovingood, First District Supervisor
  • Janice Rutherford, Second District Supervisor
  • Curt Hagman, Fourth District Supervisor
  • Josie Gonzales, Fifth District Supervisor

"I am honored to have the support of all of our county supervisors," said District Attorney Mike Ramos. "I look forward to a continued relationship with these leaders so we can accomplish like-minded goals at the state level."

For a list of current endorsements click here.

 

IN THE NEWS: San Bernardino County DA creates unit to prosecute animal cruelty

By Beatriz Valenzuela, San Bernardino Sun

Posted: 04/28/16, 5:57 PM PDT | Updated: 8 hrs ago

SAN BERNARDINO >> A link between animal cruelty and other crimes — especially domestic violence — has prompted the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office to create a new unit to prosecute animal cruelty cases, District Attorney Mike Ramos announced Thursday.

“This is a link that experts across the country have known about for some time,” said Ramos following a press conference where he introduced the new unit. “Any abuse is something we will not tolerate, not in this county.”

The case of Fontana mother Lorna Lopez illustrates the connection, said Ramos. Lopez and her husband, Victor Lopez, were reported missing by family members March 12, 2013, after the couple was seen arguing. She was found in a Chino pasture two days later. Victor Lopez had turned himself in and led police to her body.

Investigators learned that two years earlier Victor Lopez had been convicted and sentenced to 30 days in jail for kicking the family dog in front of his wife and their four children.

“The abuser will start to see the connection the victim has with the animal, and they use that as a weapon,” said Caroline Reyna, program director for the Family Assistance Program in the High Desert, believed to be the only shelter for domestic abuse victims in the county that allows pets to stay with owners.

According to the American Humane Association, 13 percent of intentional animal abuse cases involve domestic violence.

The organization also found that 71 percent of pet-owning women entering women’s shelters reported their batterer had injured, maimed, killed or threatened family pets for revenge or to gain psychological control, a tactic Ramos said has been seen in cases of human trafficking.

Last month, Keion Hector, 23, was arrested in Ontario after he allegedly killed a victim’s 8-week-old puppy as a way to control and intimidate a female victim.

“Lay in the bed or I’ll put your face by the dead dog. If you leave, I’ll kill you like I killed Sasha,” prosecutors allege he said.

Click here to read more.

IN THE NEWS: Mend, Don’t End, California’s Death Penalty

I recently posted the following piece on The Flash Report:

 

Child killers. Rape-torture-murderers. Cop killers and serial murderers. These are the worst of the worst.

It takes an evil person to kill another innocent human being, but it takes an especially depraved mind to commit acts so utterly heinous that you earn a spot on California’s death row. Depraved minds like that of Charles Ng, who over the course of 1983 to 1985, committed as many as 25 murders in Calaveras County. Ng kidnapped families, tortured then murdered fathers and infants while forcing the mothers to watch. He then repeatedly tortured and raped the mothers, before finally killing them as well.

It has been over 30 years since his last murder.

Ng fled to Canada where he fought extradition for over six years. Finally sent back to California, he engaged in a series of legal maneuvers to delay his trial for seven more years. His time in court did not begin until late 1998 – 13 years after his last rape-torture-murder. He was convicted and sentenced to death in 1999 and for 17 years since, has sat on death row in San Quentin, denying justice for the families of his victims.

To protect public safety, bring justice to the worst criminals and closure for the families whose loved ones were taken from them, California’s death penalty must be reformed so that it can actually be used. These reforms are not complicated. They include requiring special death penalty counsel to be appointed sooner to stop legal delays, requiring death row inmates to work while awaiting appeals and pay restitution to their victims’ families, allowing death row inmates to be housed in double cells in any maximum security prison and replacing the current, three-drug lethal injection cocktail with a single-drug protocol that is the same drug recently approved for physician-assisted suicide in California.

Unfortunately, at the same time victims’ families, districts attorneys, and law enforcement leaders are trying to reform the death penalty, opposing forces are working to repeal it and they have received millions of dollars from liberal activists and expected to qualify for the ballot. The only way to stop this repeal effort is to ensure the California Death Penalty Reform and Savings measure is also on the ballot.

Despite all the attacks against the death penalty by the soft-on-crime liberals, Californians still strongly support capital punishment. If they have a fair choice, they will pick reform over repeal and we need to give them that choice.
— District Attorney Mike Ramos

 

We are in the final stages of collecting the signatures needed to place the reform measure on the ballot. Petitions are being collected by volunteers, but in a state as big as California, some portion of signatures will be collected by paid petition gatherers and our campaign is behind our fundraising goal to make sure we can pay for them. Our campaign needs to raise one million dollars by next week, or death penalty reform may not make it on the ballot.

The threat, and application, of a working death penalty law in California is law enforcement’s strongest tool to keep our communities safe. After two decades of falling crime in California, violent crime is on the rise again in our state.

It’s no accident that since thousands of prisoners started getting early release to relieve prison overcrowding, and dozens of other crimes were changed from felonies to misdemeanors, that crime has started to go back up. If the death penalty is also repealed, many law enforcement leaders fear that we will face a tidal wave of violent crime like we have not seen in over 20 years.

For the victims and their families and for law enforcement leaders who toil every day to keep us safe, help us save and reform the death penalty.

Click here to see more.