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Criminal Procedure

Top state court tells judge to cancel hearing on 30-day term for ex-teacher who admitted teen rape

Posted Sep 6, 2013 4:00 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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In the latest twist in the controversial case of a former Montana high school teacher who admitted raping one of his 14-year-old students, yet had all but 30 days of a 15-year sentence suspended, the judge in the case was ordered to cancel a Friday hearing at which he reportedly planned to reconsider the sentence.

As the prosecution, the defense and the state's highest court all agreed, the trial judge is not authorized to take further action concerning his sentence in a case that is now under appeal, CNN reports.

"We conclude that the stated intent of the District Court to alter the initially imposed oral sentence in today's scheduled hearing is unlawful and that the proceeding should be arrested," said the Montana Supreme Court in a Friday order vacating the planned hearing by Judge G. Todd Baugh. "We take no position on the legality of the imposed sentence and will address the parties' arguments in that regard on appeal."

In a Thursday filing, defense lawyer Jay Lansing agreed with prosecutors' argument in an emergency motion to the supreme court that statutory and case law empowers only the state's top court, not the trial judge, to alter the sentence that has already been imposed in the Yellowstone County Court criminal case.

In addition to requiring defendant Stacey Dean Rambold, 54, to serve only 30 days, Baugh elicited outrage by saying last month that the teen victim, who later committed suicide when she was 16 years old, "seemed older than her chronological age."

The judge subsequently apologized, and said it appears that he was mistaken in imposing less than the mandatory minimum two-year prison term he now believes was required.

The state attorney general's office filed a notice of appeal earlier this week.

But it appears that the convoluted plot concerning Rambold's sentencing last month has already thickened.

On Friday afternoon, holding what effectively was a press conference from the bench, Baugh said he had decided Thursday to cancel the hearing and also went ahead yesterday and issued a new sentencing order, which suspends all but two years of Rambold's 15-year term, reports the Billings Gazette (reg. req.).

Then, when he heard today about the state supreme court ruling vacating his scheduled hearing, Baugh told reporters, he withdrew his amended sentencing order so that the appeal could proceed.

It's not clear what effect, if any, Baugh's resentencing of Rambold on Thursday, and withdrawal of that order on Friday, will have on Rambold's sentence and/or the appeal of that sentence by the government.

See also:

ABAJournal.com: "Ex-teacher gets 30 days for rape of girl, 14; judge says she was ‘older than her chronological age’"

ABAJournal.com: "Judge orders new hearing for man given 30 days in controversial teen rape case"

Associated Press: "Billings judge will try to revise teacher's rape sentence"

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