In the judicial system, a jury decides on a verdict, and the judge then passes an appropriate sentence. The premise is that there is a balance and check here. If a jury finds a defendant not guilty, the judge dismisses the case, but if a jury finds a defendant guilty, the judge is obliged to follow the precedents set in statutory law. Did that occur in the case where Brock Allen Turner, a 20-year-old former athlete and Stanford student was found guilty and convicted of three felony charges? The prosecution recommended six years in a state prison, but the judge gave him six months in a county prison, three years probation and to be registered as a sex offender for life. The maximum sentence was 14 years in a state prison, but Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky did not even sentence him for a year. The question arises in that the sentence does not fit the crime or the guilty verdicts of the jury. If the jury can do their job, surely a Judge can do theirs and act impartially?
The facts of the case are quite simple, and one must look at the facts and nothing more. Turner was found guilty on three felony charges: assault with the intent to commit rape of an unconscious person; sexual penetration of an unconscious person; and sexual penetration of an intoxicated person (the two charges of rape were dropped at the preliminary stage). There were two independent witnesses to the act, and Turner was found at the scene of the crime. The defendant did not plead guilty, but chose to put the victim through a trial and to place the blame on his alcohol consumption and the culture on campus, and insisted that the victim had consented.
While the defendant claimed the victim had consented, an unconscious person cannot consent to anything, and if consent had been given it becomes null and void if they lose consciousness. The defendant also claimed he was drunk. What did his toxicology report say? The witnesses state they were able to talk to him, and he responded, and then tried to run away. His lawyer was defending his client, but at what cost? Perhaps it was poor advice to try a strategy that would not work to try and convince the jury that the girl was drunk and had agreed to sex, but instead has backfired and shows the defendant as unrepentant?
While the prosecution can appeal against the sentence, campaigns are calling for the Judge to be removed. It’s not easy to remove a Judge, but not impossible. The importance here is that justice was not seen to be done; that the Judge failed to do his job adequately ,and was biased towards the former athlete as he had been a former athlete at Stanford. Importantly, the point is the defendant showed no remorse, nor did his father who called the ‘20 minutes of action’ that ruined his life’, should not result in a prison sentence. His son committed a crime and ruined another person’s life! That was 20 minutes of criminal action Dan Turner, and even a single minute of a criminal action leads to a conviction.
There has been more outrage as a 20-year-old friend, Leslie Rasmussen wrote a letter as a character statement for Turner stating, “I would not be writing this if I had any doubt in my mind he was innocent.” She then tried to differentiate rapes on campus versus other rapes, saying they were not real rapes in college as it is part of college culture. First of all it isn’t, and anyone who thinks it is needs to be educated. As a result, her band, (Good English, with her sisters) has been dropped by their publicists, and all their gigs cancelled. In some ways it shows how naïve some people are, and that they shouldn’t talk about things they don’t understand, but also that the public do not support flippant remarks. You cannot blame alcohol (as Rasmussen claims is responsible for the crime); I imagine there were many more drunk people at the same party, but none of them chose to rape or assault others. She backtracked a day later and said he was rightfully convicted once she received threats and hate messages, but what did she expect? People do not support people who try to excuse rapists, because they made a conscious act to harm another. Those who excuse them are guilty of enabling.
In hindsight the victim admits she drank too much, but was her drink spiked? It’s not a crime to get drunk and pass out, and I’m sure she was not the only person intoxicated at the party. Regardless, Turner took advantage of the situation and rather than assist someone in need, went on to violate her. There is no excuse for his behavior; he was over the age of consent and an adult, he knew what was right and wrong, and his decision to run away when two Swedish students asked what he was doing, indicates guilt and that he was not under the influence of alcohol.
Ironically the light sentence has increased media attention, and Turner has lost his college scholarship, while Stanford and Turner came to an agreed expulsion where Turner cannot return as a student ever, or set foot on campus. If it had not been for the lenient (and inappropriate sentence) the case might not have attracted as much attention, as people around the world call out for justice and accountability.
Removing the Judge (https://www.change.org/p/california-state-house-recall-judge-aaron-persky) is more of a protest, as it doesn’t solve the problem, but in this case the Judge took little notice of the recommendations from the prosecutors. In the system, each party does their part; the prosecutors had a tight case that shouldn’t really have gone to trial (Turner had a right to a trial), but with money the Turner family took their chances, then the jury did their job and found him guilty on the evidence presented. Finally the Judge failed to do his job and recognize this was a violent crime, and used his own bias saying, “A prison sentence would have a severe impact on him. I think he will not be a danger to others.” However, that is the point of prison, to have an impact and to serve as a deterrent to others. Scores of other Judges, lawyers, and others in the legal field disagree, and that it sends a message to others that if you are bright with a future, even if you are a convicted criminal, Judges can hand down light sentences. A Judge has to be fit for purpose, and Persky is failing to do his job correctly, which is to administer and apply the law.
This isn’t a witch-hunt for Persky or Turner; the public needs to see justice and a criminal serve an appropriate sentence. That has not happened, and the people of the world have reacted with petitions, and campaigns to get a just sentence for the victim. She got the verdict, but the final cog in the judicial system let her down. Will Persky resign? Given all the media attention, it will be hard for him to continue without more criticism and people scrutinizing his cases, and as for any career promotions, that will now be unlikely. Leslie Rasmussen has killed her career and that of her sisters with a negligent statement. While neither Persky or Rasmussen have not done anything legally wrong, the morality of their actions carry greater weight, not only in the US, but in the world; people know intrinsically what is right or wrong and with social media and the internet, the majority have made that their opinions clear.
At times the law is complex, but this was a case with definitive evidence and witnesses. A guilty verdict should have been followed with an appropriate sentence and it wasn’t. The justice system is flawed at the best of times, and here the flaw in the system was the Judge. His actions hold the judicial system back, and sends a dangerous message to potential criminals, that they could get away with crime. Justice should be fair and impartial (or strive to be) and this case shows that in Santa Clara that did not happen.
There are a number of online petitions and websites offering support for the victim to receive true justice. As this is an ongoing topic, each voice helps the judicial system to evolve.