A bill that would require witnesses to report violent crimes to law enforcement regardless of the victim's age has passed unanimously in the state Assembly Appropriations Committee.
Assemblyman Pedro Nava (D-Santa Barbara) authored the bill, AB 984, in response to the Oct. 24 gang rape of a 16-year-old girl outside Richmond High School's homecoming dance. Police said the girl was robbed, beaten and repeatedly raped for two and a half hours by as many as 10 people while as many as a dozen others stood by and watched.
A 1999 state law makes it illegal for witnesses to fail to report a rape, murder or other violent crime committed against a child under 14. Failure to do so is punishable as a misdemeanor with up to six months in jail and a fine of $1,500, according to Nava's office. But because the victim in Richmond was over 14, law enforcement officials could not hold witnesses accountable for failing to report the attack and police couldn't compel them to talk.
The new bill, known as the "Witness Responsibility Act," would remove the victim's age threshold from the existing law, according to Nava. The bill is supported by the Peace Officers Research Association of California, the Riverside Sheriffs' Association, the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, Crime Victims United and other law enforcement groups, according to Nava. It will now go to the full state Assembly for consideration next week, according to Nava's office.
Seven suspects have been charged in connection with the Richmond attack and are awaiting trial in Contra Costa County.