Understanding the California Sexual Assault Survivor’s Bill of Rights

Sexual assault remains all too common in the United States. According to statistics collected by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), 81% of women and 43% of men report experiencing some form of sexual assault or harassment in their lives. These numbers do not account for the fact that many people feel ashamed of being assaulted and may not report their experiences. 

While sex-based assault happens too frequently, many places are taking action to provide survivors with more resources and protections. For example, California has implemented a bill known as Marsy’s Law, or the Sexual Assault Survivor’s Bill of Rights, to provide survivors with additional rights after their assault. 

What Is Marsy’s Law?

Marsy’s Law is named after Marsy Nicholas, a California college student who was assaulted, stalked, and killed by her ex-boyfriend. Her tragic death highlighted the nationwide lack of laws protecting victims’ rights after a crime. Had there been a few basic protections available to Marsy, her ex-boyfriend would not have been able to get close to her, and she would likely have survived. 

In honor of her memory, California passed Proposition 9, the Victims’ Bill of Rights Act of 2008: Marsy’s Law in 2008, also known as the Sexual Assault Survivor’s Bill of Rights. This bill enshrines 17 victims’ rights in the state constitution. They aim to ensure survivors of sexual assault and other crimes receive fair treatment from the legal system and protection from further victimization. 

Your Rights Under the California Sexual Assault Survivor’s Bill of Rights

If you have been the victim of any crime, you have the constitutional right to certain protections and notices in California. While Marsy’s Law names 17 rights, they can be summarized as follows:

  • Fair Treatment. You should be treated fairly and respectfully without being exposed to intimidation, harassment, or abuse from any party during the justice process. 
  • Reasonable Protection. You should be granted reasonable protection from the person who harmed you or anyone who may be acting on their behalf.
  • Consideration for Safety. The legal system must consider your safety and your family when setting conditions for bail, release, and parole. If it would actively put you in danger, the justice system should not release the defendant before or during their sentence. 
  • Maintenance of Privacy. Your privacy should be respected, and confidential information about your contact information and location, that of your family, and medical records and counseling information should not be disclosed to the defendant or anyone acting on their behalf without your consent.
  • Refusal of Interviews. You may refuse any interview or request for information made by the defendant or anyone action on their behalf. You may also place reasonable conditions if you do consent to these interviews. 
  • Reasonable Notice. You should be notified a reasonable amount of time before any public proceedings related to your assault. 
  • Prompt Resolution. Proceedings related to your assault should be handled in a timely fashion without unnecessary delays. 
  • Information Provision. You should be allowed to speak at any proceeding involving your rights as a victim. You may also request to provide information during the pre-sentencing investigation to inform the probation team about how the assault affected your life. 
  • Request for Information. You have the right to request and receive information about the crime, including the pre-sentence report and the defendant’s conviction, sentence, incarceration, release, or escape. 
  • Receive Restitution and Return of Property. The defendant should be ordered to provide you with restitution for your losses, such as medical bills or working time lost. In addition, the legal system must return any property taken from you promptly once it is no longer required as evidence.
  • Notice of Rights. You should be informed of all of these rights after you report suffering an assault.

While state law guarantees the above to victims, the legal system is imperfect. Sometimes, your rights to privacy, information, protection, and safety may not be respected. If this happens, you may have grounds to take legal action. 

Exercising Your Rights as a Sexual Assault Survivor

You have rights as a survivor, but how you can exercise them is not always clear. You can begin to make use of your rights by:

  • Reporting your assault. The first step to receiving survivor’s rights is to report that you have been assaulted. A report is necessary to begin criminal proceedings, provides evidence for civil proceedings, and informs the legal system that you are eligible for protection under Marsy’s Law.
  • Petitioning for a restraining order. Your rights to safety and protection allow you to petition for a restraining order against the person who assaulted you. You can file your petition simultaneously with other civil and criminal proceedings to receive legal protection from their presence or communications as quickly as possible. 
  • Requesting information. The legal system will only notify you about certain aspects of the criminal trial if you request that information. File your request quickly so you remain informed about the defendant’s whereabouts and whether they remain in custody.
  • Demanding restitution. The NSVRC estimates that the average cost of sexual assault is $122,461 over a lifetime, including medical bills, costs of counseling, and other related expenses. You can file a civil lawsuit against the person who assaulted you to recoup those costs.

If you have questions about your rights as a survivor of sexual assault or another crime, do not hesitate to reach out to the skilled attorneys at Fiore Achermann. We pride ourselves on providing empathetic, expert legal counsel to assault survivors throughout California. Schedule your consultation today to discover how we can help you exercise your rights and pursue justice, protection, and restitution for what you have suffered.