Guest Column

Tony Rackauckas

Orange County District Attorney

Changes in law required to protect all community members 

Tony Rackauckas

Submitted photo

Orange County DA Tony Rackauckas

Over the last several weeks, we have discovered a glaring omission in our laws to protect all members of our community, especially LGBTQ members. This community is often targeted for persecution and prejudice. I asked Senator Janet Nguyen to carry this new legislation as she is not just a strong advocate for public safety laws, but she is someone who can build bipartisan support to get the law enacted. Most recently, Sheriff Sandra Hutchens and I worked with Senator Nguyen to create Erica Alonso’s law which elevated the crime of dumping a deceased body from a misdemeanor to a felony.

We are grateful to Senator Nguyen who will lead the efforts in Sacramento to bring about this much needed change to provide protection to ALL members of our community, regardless of their sexual orientation. We need to expand the existing language of special circumstances murder, Penal Code section 190.2, subsection 16, to add “sexual orientation” and “gender” to the existing protected classes of “race, color, religion, nationality and country of origin.” The term “sexual orientation” and “gender” will be defined as currently stated in Penal Code section 422.56.

As we strive to protect all members of society, it’s a glaring omission that sexual orientation is NOT a protected class of crime victims of special circumstances murder in California. Interestingly enough, they are protected members in other penal code sections. If the sexual orientation of a victim is a substantial factor in a defendant’s intent to murder, then he or she should be subjected to the punishment of life without possibility of parole and face the possibility of a death penalty.

Unfortunately, laws often need to be revised in light of tragic situations. It’s time that California places members of the LGBTQ community as a protected class of victims of special circumstances murder. Although this draft legislation will not have an impact on the (Samuel) Woodward case, it will fortify the existing language and address the gap in the current law to include this much needed classification. We are hoping that this draft legislation, SB 971, will gain momentum as it goes through the process. 

Tony Rackauckas made the above comments at a recent sentencing hearing for Samuel Woodward. Woodward is being held for the stabbing murder of Blaze Bernstein, a 19-year-old from Lake Forest. Bernstein was openly gay.