Witnesses who don't report crimes could do time

March 23, 2010 6:23:55 PM PDT
A new law aimed at requiring witnesses to report violent crimes against older teenagers is moving quickly through the California legislature.

The bill was written after the gang rape of a Richmond High school student last year. A lot of people watched the assault but did not do anything to help the victim.

Sgt. Lori Curran says, "Had someone come forward during the assault, what happened to Jane Doe would've been shortened exponentially so."

It was a crime that shocked the nation, the sexual assault of a Richmond High student outside her homecoming dance. And, at least 20 people just stood by and watched while she was beaten and raped for more than two hours. In California, witnessing such a crime and doing nothing it is not against the law if the victim is older than 14.

The girl was 16.

"We knew certain people were present during this assault, but once they provided us with just minimal information, we had to walk them back out the door," Curran says.

A bill by state Senator Leland Yee would change the law to cover all minors. It passed unanimously through a public safety committee Tuesday and would require anyone who witnesses a violent crime against someone 18 or younger to report it or face a fine and jail time.

There is an exception for those who fear for their safety or gang retaliation.

"This is more about trying to re-awaken all of us, that we have a responsibility in a society, particularly to our children," Yee says.

Seven suspects are in custody in the Richmond case and some face life in prison. Curran was a lead investigator and to this day, police think the witnesses knew more than they let on during questioning.

"Had we had the information on the front end, warrants would have been served much sooner, within days, even hours if we would have been lucky," Curran says.

So far, Yee's bill has a long list of supporters including everyone from law enforcement to victim's rights groups, and no formal opposition.

Richmond police say some witnesses did not come forward because they wanted to protect the attackers. Some told police they assumed others would call 911.

No one ever did, and the victim has to live with that.


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