Punishment for Rape in California - Statutory Interpretation

Section 667.61, subdivision (a) states, "A person who is convicted of an offense specified in subdivision (c) forcible rape, forcible oral copulation...under two or more of the circumstances specified in subdivision (e) kidnapping the victim, commission during a burglary, personal use of a dangerous weapon shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for life and shall not be eligible for release on parole for 25 years . . . ." ( 667.61, subd. (a)). Section 667.61 does not expressly limit its application to perpetrators and aiders and abettors who actively facilitate the crime. Nevertheless, assuming this failure to specify the degree of participation required to apply the aggravated sentence creates an ambiguity, we also consider legislative intent. (See, e.g., People v. Walker (1976) 18 Cal. 3d 232, 242-243, 133 Cal. Rptr. 520, 555 P.2d 306; People v. Strickland (1974) 11 Cal. 3d 946, 961, 114 Cal. Rptr. 632, 523 P.2d 672.) In doing so, we again examine the language of the applicable statutes, since the words the Legislature chose are the best indicators of its intent. (Freedom Newspapers, Inc. v. Orange County Employees Retirement System (1993) 6 Cal. 4th 821, 826, 863 P.2d 218; People v. Jones (1993) 5 Cal. 4th 1142, 1146, 857 P.2d 1163). We are mindful that "'the defendant is entitled to the benefit of every reasonable doubt, whether it arises out of a question of fact, or as to the true interpretation of words or the construction of language used in a statute.'" ( People v. Davis (1981) 29 Cal. 3d 814, 828, 176 Cal. Rptr. 521, 633 P.2d 186; but see 4; People v. Mejia (1999) 72 Cal. App. 4th 1269, 1274, fn. 4 (dis. opn. of Crosby, J.)).