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Rape impersonation case prompt calls to change old law

January 5, 2013 |  9:14 am

A California law that led a state court to overturn the rape conviction of a Los Angeles man this week must be changed, legislators said.

A state appeals court cited the 19th century law on Wednesday when it overturned the conviction of Julio Morales, who in 2009 had entered a darkened bedroom where a woman was sleeping and had sex with her.

The 18-year-old woman said she initially mistook the defendant for her boyfriend, who had left earlier, but resisted when she realized it wasn't him. Police said Morales admitted the woman probably wrongly assumed he was her boyfriend.

The 1872 law says that obtaining sex with another person by trickery is rape only if the victim is married and if the man pretends to be her husband.

The Los Angeles-based 2nd District Court of Appeal said it had ruled reluctantly and appealed to the Legislature to change the law. Another court also put the Legislature on notice of the law's anomaly 30 years ago, but legislators failed to act.

Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez (D-Los Angeles) said changing the law would be a top priority for the lower house in this year's legislative session.

"We've got to fix this," said Pérez, who has authored proposals to address similar legal loopholes for victims of domestic violence. "The goal here is to make sure we have a set of laws that are consistent with what our values are."

Assemblyman K.H. "Katcho" Achadjian (R-San Luis Obispo) said prosecutors in Santa Barbara asked him to change the law in 2011 because of their difficulty in prosecuting a man for rape.

But his bill to overhaul the law died in the state Senate Public Safety Committee. Lawmakers said they were following a policy to shelve legislation that could exacerbate the state's prison overcrowding crisis by creating new felonies.

Legal analysts said Wednesday's unanimous ruling by three Republican-appointed justices, two men and one woman, applied the law correctly.

"Californians are justifiably outraged by this court ruling, and it is important that the Legislature join together to close whatever loopholes may exist in the law and uphold justice for rape victims," Achadjian said Friday.

-- Maura Dolan and Michael J. Mishak

A California law that compelled a state court to free a convicted rapist will be changed, a top legislator said.