Danny Masterson Convicted on Rape Charges

No Statute of Limitations on Forcible Rape: The California Laws Under Which Danny Masterson Was Convicted

A question came up in the comments section of our video about Danny Masterson’s conviction on two rape charges. The commenter asked why there there was no statute of limitations on the rapes Masterson committed over 20 years ago.

The answer in the case of Danny Masterson pertains to specific sections of the California Penal Code under which he was charged.

Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Reinhold Mueller filed three counts of forcible rape against Masterson. Here are the essential facts to know about the charges Masterson is facing under California law:

  • Forcible rape is a violation of California Penal Code 261(a)(2).
  • Forcible rape is classified as a serious felony within the meaning of CPC 1192.7. Violent sex crimes fall under the One Strike or Three Strikes law as enacted by the California legislature:

1192.7.  (a) (1) It is the intent of the Legislature that district attorneys prosecute violent sex crimes under statutes that provide sentencing under a “one strike,” “three strikes” or habitual sex offender statute instead of engaging in plea bargaining over those offenses.

    • Forcible rape is classified as a violent felony within the meaning of CPC 667.5(c): For the purpose of this section, “violent felony” shall mean any of the following:
      (1) Murder or voluntary manslaughter.
      (2) Mayhem.
      (3) Rape as defined in paragraph (2) or (6) of subdivision (a) of Section 261 or paragraph (1) or (4) of subdivision (a) of Section 262….

Masterson is further charged with multiple rapes under California Penal Code 667.61(c). The charge of multiple rapes makes Masterson subject to California’s One Strike law. Under this law, rape is one of the sex crimes that can result in a life sentence for a first-time conviction. Under Section 799 of the California Penal Code, any crime(s) for which a person can receive the death penalty or life imprisonment have no statute of limitations. Masterson is charged with three counts of felony offenses involving sexually violent rapes, i.e. the use of force. Each charges carries a life sentence if Masterson is convicted.

Under Section 799, prosecutors can take as long as they want to press charges for these crimes. Prosecutors can file and begin their cases at any time. Section 799 explains why Danny Masterson’s case was slow rolled in the LA District Attorney’s Office: Prosecutors knew they could charge Masterson under Section 799.

In its 2010 ruling in People vs. Perez, the California Appeals Court discussed the case of  Mario Renee Perez, a defendant who had been convicted of multiple rapes and was therefore, like Masterson, subject to CPC 667.61. The defendant tried to assert a statute of limitations defense as has Masterson. The Appeals Court wrote:

“A jury convicted defendant, Mario Renee Perez, of three sex offenses, each involving a different victim. He claims that the statute of limitations barred his prosecution on two of the three charges… Finding that recent California Supreme Court decisions compel rejection of his limitations claim and that his other claims lack merit, we will affirm the judgment… Each of the four charges named a different victim. The information alleged with regard to each count that defendant fell under the alternative, and more severe, punishment scheme set forth in the “One Strike” law (§ 667.61, subds. (b), (e)).

Like Defendant Masterson, Defendant Perez also demurred. The Appeals Court addressed the defendant’s demurrer and the statute of limitations (emphases ours):

I. Statute of Limitations

Counts 1 and 4 charged defendant with violations of section 288, subdivision (b)(1), resulting from acts alleged to have occurred “on or about and between” January 1, 1995, and September 1, 1996 — or, in the case of count 1, possibly between January 1, 1995, and October 1, 1996.

Defendant demurred to the information on the basis that these charges were outside the statute of limitations. The prosecution responded that because defendant was charged under the One Strike law (§ 667.61) and thus subject to a sentence of life imprisonment, the charges were authorized by section 799 and were not stale.

The trial court ruled against defendant. It explained: “The issue this [c]ourt must decide is more narrow than whether [section] 667.61, in its entirety, is an `enhancement’ or an `alternate penalty.’ Instead the issue is only whether subdivisions (b) and (e)(5) of [section] 667.61, when operating together, amount to an `enhancement’ or an `alternate penalty.’ While other portions of [section] 667.61 are analogous to the three strikes law and may not extend the statute of limitations under the reasoning of People v. Turner (2005) 134 Cal.App.4th 1591 [ 36 Cal.Rptr.3d 888], the specific [section] 667.61 allegation in this case is more analogous to what is essentially a substantive offense. . . .

As charged here, it has to be established that `The [d]efendant has been convicted in the present case or cases of committing an offense specified in subdivision (c) against more than one victim.’ Thus, in this case, and as applicable to [d]efendant, the life sentence would be imposed based entirely on facts and elements proven in this individual case — not on prior convictions. . . . [¶] . . . [¶] The demurrer is overruled.”

Recent California Supreme Court authority establishes that the trial court’s ruling was correct.

The maximum punishment for a violation of section 288, subdivision (b)(1), is eight years in prison. ( Ibid.) An offender who suffers convictions “in the present case or cases” (§ 667.61, subd. (e)(5)) of violations of *section 288, subdivision (b)(1), against more than one victim is, however, subject to a sentence of life imprisonment. (§ 667.61, subds. (b), (c)(4), (e)(5).) As the trial court noted, the “present case or cases” language is important to a full explanation of why there is no prosecution deadline in these circumstances.

Section 799 provides, as relevant here: “Prosecution for an offense punishable by death or by imprisonment in the state prison for life . . . may be commenced at any time.”

We expect the Prosecution to cite, among other cases, People v. Perez in its answer to Masterson’s demurrer. While Perez concerns sexual crimes against minors, it also addresses 667.61 and Section 799. The seriousness of the multiple rape charges are what Masterson will not be able to overcome. Likewise, the crimes Masterson is alleged to have committed are punishable by a life sentence and this is an exceptionally strong part of the Prosecution’s case.

The Appeals Court in Perez also addressed the People v. Turner case (emphasis ours):

Turner stated that “the issue is whether the `offense’ referred to must itself be punishable by life imprisonment, or whether the Legislature intended to include any offense which may result in a life sentence based upon facts other than the commission of the offense itself. . . . [T]he former interpretation is correct. . . .” ( Turner, supra, 134 Cal.App.4th at p. 1596.) To the extent that this language might aid defendant in theory, however, it must be read in light of the holding of Turner, which considered the situations of wrongdoers “who commit a current felony offense, and who are recidivist offenders” ( id. at p. 1597) under the Three Strikes law.

Defendant’s case [Perez] does not involve recidivism and the precise holding of Turner does not apply. Turner is instructive, however, insofar as it notes the Legislature’s preference “that the selection of the applicable statute of limitation should be based upon the seriousness of the offense as indicated by the punishment prescribed for it.” ( 134 Cal.App.4th at p. 1598.)

Legislation passed in 1984 “reflected the primary recommendation of the Law Revision Commission that the length of a `limitations statute should generally be based on the seriousness of the crime.’ [Citation.] The use of seriousness of the crime as the primary factor in determining the length of the applicable statute of limitations was designed to strike the right balance between the societal interest in pursuing and punishing those who commit serious crimes, and the importance of barring stale claims. [Citation.] It also served the procedural need to `provid[e] predictability’ and promote `uniformity of treatment for perpetrators and victims of all serious crimes.'” ( Id. at p. 1594.)

Defendant’s crimes were serious enough to earn him a life sentence; therefore they were serious enough to warrant prosecution at any time during his natural life.

We conclude that People v. Jones, supra, 47 Cal.4th 566, and People v. Brookfield, supra, 47 Cal.4th 583, and the Legislature’s intent that more serious crimes be prosecutable farther into the future, mandate that section 799 applies to the prosecution of defendant, and that prosecuting him for his conduct in 1995 or 1996 in counts 1 and 4 was not time-barred.

Footnote 10 in People v. Gray:

Perez held that because section 667.61 established an alternative sentencing scheme, when a defendant was sentenced to a life sentence under the statute, ―the unlimited time frame for prosecution set out in section 799 for an offense punishable by death or by imprisonment in the state prison for life . . .‘ applies.‖ (Perez, supra, 182 Cal.App.4th at p. 239.)

Danny Masterson is facing very serious charges. His attempts to escape justice by arguing the statute of limitation are doomed to fail.

The Felony Complaint & Arrest Warrant for Danny Masterson:

The People vs. Perez

1 reply »

  1. Thank you for showing us this important law on rapes and how they are prosecuted. I’m so glad that the statute of limitations is not an issue in California.

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