Prosecutors have taken the unusual step of detaining an alleged teenage rape victim who has a history of running away, saying she is a key witness against a man prosecutors say is a career criminal and serial rapist.
Victims' rights advocates are joining the 17-year-old foster child's attorneys in arguing that her detention, upheld three times by two superior court judges, could discourage other victims from reporting sexual assaults.
Moreover, they say the detention conflicts with laws governing the well-being of foster children, and with Marsy's Law, a victims' rights initiative approved by California voters in November 2008.
"This is a very rare step for us. It's really the last thing we want to do, but we do feel that there is a public danger that has to be balanced here," Sacramento County Assistant District Attorney Albert Locher said Monday.
"We believe it's important to balance the protection of the community in the process here, and that is done by ensuring a conviction and ensuring that this defendant will not have the opportunity to harm someone else in the future."
The girl has been held in juvenile hall since March 23. Her attorneys are proposing that she be released to a foster or group home with a GPS ankle bracelet. Her next detention hearing is scheduled for April 16, but they hope to move up the hearing to get her released earlier.
"She's being treated like a criminal without having done any criminal act. In fact, she's the victim," said attorney Lisa Franco, who is challenging the decision to hold the girl as a material witness to ensure she appears at the trial of Frank William Rackley Sr., 37.
"This is just sending a chilling effect out there for people not wanting to report crimes and rapes. In the larger scope of things it's going to give other people more chance to commit crimes because people will be afraid to report."
The Associated Press did not name the girl because of her age and because she is an alleged sexual assault victim, though her attorneys said she has been identified in court papers and in open court.
Franco said her client recognized the swastika tattooed on Rackley's chest, NBC News affiliate KSBW.com reported. She and prosecutors said his DNA was found on her client after the then 16-year-old girl was abducted from a Sacramento light rail station on July 22.
Sacramento attorney Amina Merritt, who represents the girl's interests as a foster child, said her client is now willing to testify against Rackley.
"She is at risk and that is the reason she did not testify previously. She's afraid, she's afraid for her life," Merritt said. The girl is a different race than Rackley, and fears that others with a racial hatred might harm her even if Rackley is behind bars, Merritt said.
Sandra Henriquez, executive director of the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault, known as CalCASA, said this is the first time in her 20 years of working with victims that she has seen one incarcerated.
"We're potentially sending a message that our concern over public safety supersedes our concern over a particular victim," she said. "We could also be jeopardizing public safety if fewer victims come forward."
The Associated Press reporter Don Thompson and NBC News affiliate in California KSBW.com contributed to this report.