Law Condemns Failure to Report Crime

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Inspired by the controversial actions of UC Berkeley student David Cash, Gov. Gray Davis signed a "good samaritan" bill Monday that makes it illegal not to report a witnessed crime against a child.

The Sherrice Iverson Child Victim Protection Act was introduced in February of 1999 in response to the rape and murder of the seven-year-old Los Angeles girl.

Assemblyman Tom Torlakson, D-Antioch, authored the bill, which makes not reporting a violent or sex crime against someone 14 years old or younger a misdemeanor.

Jeremy Strohmeyer raped and strangled Iverson in a Nevada casino in 1997 while Cash looked on. Strohmeyer was convicted of the crime and sentenced to life in prison. Cash was criticized for his alleged failure to stop the crime or report it to authorities, but he could not be prosecuted for his actions.

Many UC Berkeley students demanded Cash be expelled, but UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Berdahl said campus policy only mandated expelling a convicted criminal.

When asked on "60 Minutes" whether he told his friend to stop, Cash said he never said anything, but that his body language suggested it.

When the bill was originally introduced, it included a larger range of crimes and mandated reporting crimes against adults as well. The expansive bill made many legislators uncomfortable and was amended several times before the final bill passed, said Robert Oakes, a spokesperson for Torlakson.

When it becomes law on Jan. 1, the bill sets a maximum penalty of six months in jail and $1500 fine if found guilty of not reporting any lewd act, rape or murder committed against a child.

The bill does not require a person to notify a law enforcement officer of a crime, however, if they feel reporting the incident would place themself or another family member in danger of immediate physical harm.

Oakes said that while the bill has received significant support, several groups have voiced disapproval.

The California District Attorney Association opposed the bill because they felt it would complicate prosecution, he said.

This measure is not the first California law that requires citizens to report crimes. Public school or daycare officials must report abuse of a child to proper officials.

Six other states, including Massachusetts, Minnesota, Ohio, Rhode Island, Washington and Wisconsin, have similar laws.

Oakes said that there previously was no law requiring citizens to report crimes against children but people were required to report the killing of a domestic animal or hunting illegal game. Torlakson felt the disparity was not appropriate, Oakes said.

"Gov. Davis was happy to sign the bill because it's an important public safety measure," said Hillary McLean, a Davis spokesperson.

Oakes urged people to call any type of law enforcement agency if they see a crime against a child, adding that the call can be anonymous.

"We just want people to do the right thing," he said.

Cash is currently a nuclear engineering major at UC Berkeley, despite numerous student protests calling for his expulsion.

"Berkeley is one of the best engineering schools in the country -- why would I leave?" Cash said during the "60 Minutes" interview. "I have no intention of leaving."


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