What Are People Saying About the Stanford Case?

George Lavender June 20, 2016

Even if the sen­tence is light, hope­ful­ly this will wake peo­ple up,” she said. I want the judge to know that he ignit­ed a tiny fire. If any­thing, this is a rea­son for all of us to speak even loud­er.” Stan­ford sex­u­al assault sur­vivor (via Buz­zfeed)

Ear­li­er this month, Brock Turn­er, a for­mer Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty Stu­dent was sen­tenced to six months in jail for sex­u­al assault. On good behav­ior” he will serve three. There has been a long-run­ning cam­paign against cam­pus sex­u­al assault for many years, but this case gained nation­al atten­tion after a state­ment by the sur­vivor of the assault went viral.

The state­ment, which she read in court, is direct­ed for the most part at Turn­er him­self. She describes the assault and the effects it has had on her. She describes being revic­tim­ized by Turner’s tes­ti­mo­ny, and the accusato­ry lines of ques­tion­ing she faced. She also thanks those who had sup­port­ed her, includ­ing the two oth­er stu­dents who wit­nessed the assault and intervened.

Her let­ter received wide­spread atten­tion. Among those prompt­ed to respond pub­licly was Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Biden who described him­self as filled with furi­ous anger” and wrote An Open Let­ter to a Coura­geous Young Woman.

The court case prompt­ed intense pub­lic dis­cus­sion and many, many, arti­cles writ­ten about the legal and crim­i­nal jus­tice issues it rais­es. Here I’ve tried to com­pile just some of those responses

Lenient Sen­tence?

A prison sen­tence would have a severe impact on him,” Judge Aaron Per­sky said while sen­tenc­ing Turn­er to six months in jail I think he will not be a dan­ger to oth­ers.” Turn­er was sen­tenced to three years pro­ba­tion for three felony counts: intent to com­mit rape, sex­u­al pen­e­tra­tion with a for­eign object of an intox­i­cat­ed per­son and sex­u­al pen­e­tra­tion with a for­eign object of an uncon­scious per­son. He will also have to reg­is­ter as a sex­u­al offend­er. Many deemed that sen­tence insufficient.

Rox­ane Gay writ­ing about White Crime” on Lenny Let­ter argued that Turn­er was an exam­ple of how white defen­dants receive less­er sen­tences than defen­dants of color.

This is how white­ness works. Turn­er is seen as human, as a vic­tim in the crime he com­mit­ted. He is a good young man.” He is allowed to have both a past and a future and this past and future are wor­thy of con­sid­er­a­tion. His crime is a mis­take, not a scar­let let­ter, not a reflec­tion of his char­ac­ter.” Con­tin­ue reading… 

(That was also one aspect of the dis­cus­sion on this To The Point episode which is well worth lis­ten­ing to)

Among those who pub­licly crit­i­cized the length of the sen­tence was Sen­a­tor Claire McCaskill, a for­mer pros­e­cu­tor her­self who told The Hill Typ­i­cal­ly, that would be con­sid­ered an inap­pro­pri­ate sen­tence.” Her Demo­c­ra­t­ic col­league Sen­a­tor Kirsten Gilli­brand agreed, say­ing a short sen­tence sends the wrong mes­sage.” Mean­while, a juror from the tri­al report­ed­ly described them­selves as shocked and appalled” by the sentence:

After the guilty ver­dict I expect­ed that this case would serve as a very strong deter­rent to on-cam­pus assaults, but with the ridicu­lous­ly lenient sen­tence that Brock Turn­er received, I am afraid that it makes a mock­ery of the whole tri­al and the abil­i­ty of the jus­tice sys­tem to pro­tect vic­tims of assault and rape,” the juror wrote to Per­sky. Clear­ly there are few to no con­se­quences for a rapist even if they are caught in the act of assault­ing a defense­less, uncon­scious per­son.” Con­tin­ue reading.. 

Role of Probation

Pro­ba­tion is the unsung vil­lain” in the Turn­er case writes Chan­dra Bozelko in The Guardian. The Asso­ci­at­ed Press found Judge Per­sky has con­sis­tent­ly fol­lowed pro­ba­tion rec­om­men­da­tions when­ev­er they are available.

After a jury con­vict­ed a Cal­i­for­nia man of mis­de­meanor vehic­u­lar manslaugh­ter in a fatal drunk­en dri­ving crash, Judge Aaron Per­sky sen­tenced him to six months in jail and ordered him to under­go ran­dom alco­hol testing.

The judge sen­tenced Frank Guer­rero to three years in prison for rob­bing anoth­er man. In both cas­es, Per­sky fol­lowed the sen­tenc­ing rec­om­men­da­tion of the San­ta Clara Coun­ty Pro­ba­tion Department.

An Asso­ci­at­ed Press review of his rul­ings shows that Per­sky has adhered to the same prac­tice in every tri­al where the pro­ba­tion office made a rec­om­men­da­tion since he began pre­sid­ing over a Palo Alto crim­i­nal court in 2015. Con­tin­ue reading…

From Chan­dra Bozelko’s article:

The pub­lic remains unaware of the con­sid­er­able pow­er wield­ed by pro­ba­tion offi­cers in the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem. Sev­en­ty years ago, fed­er­al pro­ba­tion offi­cers were assigned not only to super­vise peo­ple, but also to con­duct what was sup­posed to be an objec­tive, third-par­ty assess­ment of a defendant’s social, occu­pa­tion­al, psy­cho­log­i­cal, crim­i­nal and med­ical his­to­ry to assure that any sen­tence imposed was tai­lored to the defen­dant, not nec­es­sar­i­ly the crime. While pre-sen­tence inves­ti­ga­tion reports aren’t man­dat­ed in every state, each of the 50 states, the Dis­trict of Colum­bia and fed­er­al dis­trict courts allow pro­ba­tion offi­cers to inves­ti­gate and write the reports for sen­tenc­ing defen­dants. Con­tin­ue reading…

Remov­ing the Judge?

Much of the back­lash has focused on Judge Aaron Per­sky. Since the Turn­er case, sev­er­al jurors have report­ed­ly refused to serve in cas­es where Judge Per­sky is pre­sid­ing, and pros­e­cu­tors suc­cess­ful­ly removed him from a sub­se­quent sex­u­al assault case. (Although as Vox notes: The DA’s deci­sion to remove Per­sky from this case wasn’t just because he had giv­en a lenient sen­tence to anoth­er man who assault­ed an uncon­scious woman. It was that, plus anoth­er deci­sion that made no sense to them — dis­miss­ing mis­de­meanor charges against a woman accused of steal­ing mail.”)

Per­sky was just reelect­ed unop­posed but now faces an unusu­al cam­paign to unseat him. Cal­i­for­nia is one of only eight states that allow judges to be recalled. As Fusion reports, Michele Dauber, a law pro­fes­sor at Stan­ford, is lead­ing a cam­paign to do just that:

I think we are at a piv­otal moment in the treat­ment of cam­pus rape by the jus­tice sys­tem, or at least in the way the pub­lic views that,” Dauber told me in a phone con­ver­sa­tion. And I think the out­rage over the unrea­son­ably lenient sen­tence in this case real­ly shows that peo­ple real­ly expect assaults — whether on cam­pus or some­where else — to be treat­ed like the vio­lent crimes that they are.” Con­tin­ue reading…

There are sev­er­al oth­er peti­tions call­ing for his removal, one Change​.org peti­tion with more than a mil­lion sig­na­tures reads:

Judge Per­sky failed to see that the fact that Brock Turn­er is a white male star ath­lete at a pres­ti­gious uni­ver­si­ty does not enti­tle him to lenien­cy. He also failed to send the mes­sage that sex­u­al assault is against the law regard­less of social class, race, gen­der or oth­er fac­tors. Please help rec­ti­fy this trav­es­ty to jus­tice. Con­tin­ue reading…

Oppo­si­tion to Recall

How­ev­er, oth­ers, like Dan­ny Ceval­los at CNN expressed con­cern that recall­ing a judge for an unpop­u­lar deci­sion would set a dan­ger­ous prece­dent: If judges can be brought down for cor­rect­ly apply­ing the law,” he wrote then ulti­mate­ly, who ends up doing the judging?” 

And Judge Per­sky has won sup­port from pub­lic defend­ers, accord­ing to the Mar­shall Project’s Mau­rice Chammah:

…the judge is find­ing sup­port from a num­ber of pub­lic defend­ers, who argue that pun­ish­ing him will ulti­mate­ly hurt their own clients — most of them, unlike Turn­er, poor peo­ple of col­or. A group of more than 70 defense attor­neys, includ­ing many who have prac­ticed before Per­sky, have put out their own peti­tion, argu­ing that if Per­sky is forced out for what they con­sid­er a rea­son­able, fair sen­tence,” it will scare oth­er judges into giv­ing more severe sen­tences, a dynam­ic they say con­tributes to high rates of incar­cer­a­tion. Con­tin­ue reading.. 

Mass Incar­cer­a­tion

Writ­ing for the Jus­tice Fund at the Open Soci­ety Foun­da­tion Sarah Bak­er address­es the issue fac­ing cam­paigns against mass incarceration:

We can­not in good con­science call for the end of mass incar­cer­a­tion while simul­ta­ne­ous­ly advo­cat­ing for a harsh­er sen­tence for Brock Turn­er, espe­cial­ly when we know that the major­i­ty of peo­ple in Amer­i­can pris­ons are serv­ing time for vio­lent offens­es and that the exces­sive­ly long sen­tences they receive are coun­ter­pro­duc­tive and inhu­mane. Per­haps the prob­lem on which we should col­lec­tive­ly focus is not the judge’s sen­tence but rather that his lenien­cy” is such an excep­tion to the rule. Con­tin­ue reading… 

Else­where, Christi­na Cauteruc­ci at Slate delves into an aspect of Brock Turner’s sen­tence not wide­ly dis­cussed: life­time reg­is­tra­tion as a sex offend­er.

George Laven­der is an award-win­ning radio and print jour­nal­ist based in Los Ange­les. Fol­low him on Twit­ter @GeorgeLavender.
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