Criminal Justice

Law prof backs recall of judge who sentenced Stanford swimming champ to six months for sex assault

  • Print.

Updated: A Stanford University law professor is participating in a recall effort against a California judge who sentenced a champion Stanford swimmer to six months in jail for sexual assault.

The professor, Michele Dauber, criticized Judge Aaron Persky for apparently taking into account the defendant’s age, academic achievement and alcohol consumption, the New York Times reports. The Guardian, the Washington Post and the San Jose Mercury News also have stories.

Persky sentenced Brock Allen Turner last Thursday to six months in jail and three years of probation for sexually assaulting a 23-year-old woman who attended a fraternity party on campus. Turner, who is now banned from the Stanford campus, will have to register as a sex offender. Police arrested Turner after two grad students saw Turner on top of the unconscious woman behind a dumpster and held him for arrest.

Turner had said he believed the sex was consensual and he didn’t realize the woman was unconscious. He was convicted of assault with intent to commit rape of an intoxicated woman and sexually penetrating an unconscious and intoxicated person with a foreign object.

The probation office had recommended four to six months in prison while the district attorney recommended a six-year sentence.

Persky said he considered Turner’s character, his lack of criminal history and his remorsefulness, according to the San Jose Mercury News. He also found that there is less moral culpability attached to a defendant who is intoxicated.

Turner’s father had written to the court that his son’s life would never be the same and he had paid “a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action in his 20-plus years of life.”

The victim’s impact statement has gone viral since being posted on Buzzfeed. She noted that the probation officer considered the fact that Turner had surrendered a swimming scholarship.

“How fast Brock swims does not lessen the severity of what happened to me, and should not lessen the severity of his punishment,” she wrote. “If a first-time offender from an underprivileged background was accused of three felonies and displayed no accountability for his actions other than drinking, what would his sentence be? The fact that Brock was an athlete at a private university should not be seen as an entitlement to leniency, but as an opportunity to send a message that sexual assault is against the law regardless of social class.”

Since the sentencing started gaining widespread attention, Persky has received death threats, Reuters reports. Courthouse security has been strengthened in light of the threats.

Those supporting Persky’s sentencing decision include Santa Clara County Public Defender Molly O’Neal, reports the San Jose Mercury News. “We lock more people up in the United States than anywhere else in the world,” O’Neal told the newspaper. “To what end in this case?”

Sajid Khan, who also works as a public defender in Santa Clara County, wrote a column for The Recorder (sub. req.) in which he blamed the backlash on a “culture of mass incarceration.”

“My only outrage about Judge Persky’s decision would be if similarly situated public defender clients, particularly minorities, receive harsher sentences than Mr. Turner from Judge Persky, but no one has cited any such example,” Khan wrote. “In fact, many colleagues in my office that appear before Judge Persky believe that a public defender client who wasn’t white or affluent would have received the same type of sentence from him.”

On Thursday, 10 prospective jurors in an unrelated case assigned to Persky told the court they were unable to serve because of their feelings about his sentencing of Turner, reports the San Jose Mercury News. “I understand,” the judge told them, and excused each one from service.

Updated on June 9 to add details about the death threats made towards Persky, reaction by public defenders and the Thursday jury selection.

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.