Brock Allen Turner: The Sort of Defendant Who is Spared “Severe Impact”

Here’s the problem: the judges are human, and they’re humans who have enjoyed enough good fortune to become judges. The quality of their mercy is strained through their life experiences, which don’t resemble the life experiences of most of the defendants before them.

Judge Aaron Persky empathized with Brock Allen Turner and could easily imagine what it would be like to lose sports fame (as Persky enjoyed), to lose a Sanford education (as Persky enjoyed), to lose the sort of easy success and high regard that a young, reasonably affluent Stanford graduate (like Persky was) can expect as a matter of right. Judge Persky could easily imagine how dramatically different a state prison is from Stanford frat parties, and how calamitous was Turner’s fall. That’s how Judge Persky convinced himself to hand such a ludicrously light sentence for such a grotesque violation of another human being.

Brock Allen Turner: The Sort of Defendant Who is Spared “Severe Impact”

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39 thoughts on “Brock Allen Turner: The Sort of Defendant Who is Spared “Severe Impact”

  1. I read this earlier today. Ken does not disappoint.

    Things like this are how we got mandatory minimums & 3 strikes laws, at least, when leniency was shown to the wrong kind of people.

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  2. It’s actually kind of unbelievable, the lack of self-awareness on the part of the judge. I mean, just how?

    I mean, I understand sympathy, but doesn’t he take a deep breath and look around at the world? Blah.

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  3. This strikes me as exactly right. Oscar has a good point above as well. This is the kind of sentence that makes mass incarceration worse not better.

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  4. I’m curious if there was any pushback on the sentencing prior to the victim’s letter to the defendant going viral? For some reason, that strikes me as an important aspect to the politics of the case. How many other rape cases have gone down just like this one without a bright light being shown on the actions of the court?

    And for the record, I completely understand the arguments for leniency presented to the court by Brock’s father. That he’s being personally attacked for making them seems like another level of injustice here. I mean, what’s a father to do in a situation like this? Advocate that his son spend more time in jail? His job is to defend his son, not determine legal guilt or length of the sentence when found guilty.

    The problem, only brought into relief by the victim’s letter, is that this was a travesty of justice, and the blame for that falls squarely on the judge. (As I’m sure he realizes right about now…)

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    • Stillwater:
      I’m curious if there was any pushback on the sentencing prior to the victim’s letter to the defendant going viral? For some reason, that strikes me as an important aspect to the politics of the case. How many other rape cases have gone down just like this one without a bright light being shown on the actions of the court?

      It’s an interesting and depressing question.

      And for the record, I completely understand the arguments for leniency presented to the court by Brock’s father. That he’s being personally attacked for making them seems like another level of injustice here. I mean, what’s a father to do in a situation like this? Advocate that his son spend more time in jail? His job is to defend his son, not determine legal guilt or length of the sentence when found guilty.

      His job may be to defend his son, but no one said he had to display such profound moral idiocy in doing so. “20 minutes of action”?

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      • And yet!, the judge apparently viewed those claims as having merit.

        Look, I don’t disagree that the words he uttered are loathsome. My only point was that he was trying to persuade the judge to go light on his kid. And it apparently worked!

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            • The dad. He may have accomplished his goal of keeping his kid from being appropriately punished, and now he is being publicly shamed for it. Given that the father accomplished his goal by acting shamefully in public, there is a small measure of justice in this.

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              • I’m still inclined to cut him a bit of slack. Not because his statements weren’t despicable, but because if you were trying to design a situation that would coax despicable statements out of somebody, you’d probably wind up pretty close to “I need to come up with an argument to keep my rapist son out of prison.”

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                        • It’s not about being an asshole. It’s that you’re asking Mike about how he’d act in relative to a situation you aren’t even familiar with. So why even ask the question?

                          Do the work. Ask an informed question. Especially when it’s super easy to get informed…

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                              • I’m not talking about articles discussing the letter. I’m talking about the letter itself. I had a specific question that couldn’t only be answered by reading the whole letter. Mike took the time to post on the topic. I assumed he was more informed than I was. Why not lean on him and hope he can answer my question and provide the relevant information all at once?

                                It isn’t like I ordered him to. A thought occured as I was writing my comment and I figured I’d just ask it.

                                But, please, since it is so easy and I’m so bad at Googling, why don’t you tell me the answer to my query. I’ll be generous and give you 45 seconds.

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                                • Why not lean on him and hope he can answer my question and provide the relevant information all at once?

                                  Because you’re asking him what actions he’d take as a father of a son who’d been charged with rape, and asking that question without any understanding of the risible and obviously controversial comments made by Brock’s father.

                                  It’s a sensitive subject dude.

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                                  • A subject he opted to write about. I’m a (single*) father to two (young*) boys. Mike is a more experienced father with a valuable perspective I can gain from. Excuse me for wanting to tap into that.

                                    Independent of what THIS father said, I’ve thought about how I’d respond as father and I’m sure others have. It seems like a conversation worth having.

                                    * Hence time to stay up to date on every current event being a little tricky.

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                                • But, please, since it is so easy and I’m so bad at Googling, why don’t you tell me the answer to my query. I’ll be generous and give you 45 seconds.

                                  Dayum. I already said you should do the work yourself. :)

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                • “I need to come up with an argument to keep my rapist son out of prison.”

                  I like to think that if I were in that position, the “need” would arise from some outrageous additional circumstances, like “if he goes to prison, Martians will respond by destroying the Earth, but I can’t say it because no one would believe me.” Then again, I’m not a parent, so what do I know.

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  5. A few notes:

    Statements by victims and by defendant’s supporters rarely have much impact, according to the expert to whom I am married. The probation report carries much more weight.

    Researching any judge’s sentencing decisions following conviction on a particular charge would literally require manual research in the court files. Remember that the vast majority (90+%) of all cases are plead out, so there’s no appeal. So treat any argument about the judge’s history of sentencing with great discretion.

    Bring this case to (say) Compton and present only the basic facts (digital rape of a passed-out woman), and the result would be very different.

    Which leads to: Sometimes defendants get lucky on sentencing. And even more rarely the victims prepare a victim statement so powerful as to make the judge look foolish or even cruel. This is NOT an argument for mandatory minimums or judicial recall. This is only a reminder that the system is arbitrary and cruel, and that everyone involved in the system — judges, prosecutors, defense counsel, probation officers and jailers — need to be sensitive to their own biases.

    So yes, the defendant got an absurdly low sentence, and possibly the power of the victim’s statement will lead the California judicial system to re-examine how it treats rape cases. But there really is not a systemic problem anywhere in the US of defendants getting too little prison time. To the contrary, if the US is going to deal with its problem of mass over-incarceration (at least compared to the rest of the world) and start reducing the prison population substantially, people like the defendant would be getting sentences of about 4-5 years.

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    • The probation report I think is the big missing fact in the discussions I’ve seen of the case. The sentence was consistent with that recommendation which, as I understand it, was based at least in some part on statements made by the victim during her interview which seemed to oppose substantial jail time.

      I still see plenty of room to disagree with the sentence and criticize the arbitrariness of the system but it provides important context for why the judge sentenced the way he did.

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      • Yeah good point, but it makes the situation even more troubling in my eyes. Based on the victim statement, she told the probation officer that she doesn’t want Brock to rot in jail but that she wants him to understand that what he did was wrong. The probation officer basically took that to mean “Brock shouldn’t go to jail”, and then the judge didn’t even bother with the whole understanding right from wrong part either. You had a victim with unbelievable mercy who is then failed by the system across multiple checkpoints. Either these people were negligent, or – more likely – they really did see two victims in this case.

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  6. One point that hit me hard about this case is that pleading “not guilty” to a crime you committed and then hiring a professional to attack the victim’s account and general character is itself a morally reprehensible act. This is something I tend to forget in part because (a) my strong belief that even the worst criminal should have a good defense clouds the other fact that the worst criminal should not be pleading innocent; and (b) I tend to see the final guilty verdict outcome, which abstracts the year or more of harrowing case time that the victim spent not knowing if her assailant will even be held responsible.

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    • On an NPR show called On Point yesterday, someone (I think it was Jesicca Valenti) pointed out that a rape case is radically different than any other type of legal proceeding since the presumption of innocent till proven guilty requires establishing that the accuser herself isn’t guilty. That is, the logic of the legal system requires that she’s on trial, defending herself from accusations of culpability, rather than the accused. Which may be a trivial observation for some folks but it hit me with the same force as parts of this case hit you. I mean, I’ve always known that was the case in a rape trial, but the context of her claim reinforced the point like a sledge-hammer.

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      • Grand theft auto trial:

        “Sir, isn’t it true that you are in the habit of leaving your keys in the car?”

        “What does that have to do with anything? The door was jimmied open and then the car was hot-wired.”

        “Objection. Move to strike as non-responsive.”

        “Sustained. The witness will answer the question.”

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      • Yeah, I don’t think this point was ever as concrete for me as it is now. I think we’ve talked here about how prosecutors will use the threat of an extreme sentence *if there’s a trial* to get people to take safer sentences for things they didn’t do. And I understand the problems there. But this case really highlights the necessity of having a “not guilty” plea with a “guilty” verdict hold special consequences.

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    • One point that hit me hard about this case is that pleading “not guilty” to a crime you committed and then hiring a professional to attack the victim’s account and general character is itself a morally reprehensible act.

      Sorry, as a lawyer that statement made me snort with laughter.

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    • Common law ideally is based on the presumption that the accused is innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt by the prosecution regardless of the crime. It doesn’t matter if it is larceny, murder, or anything else. The star of the trial is the defendant and the only thing that should matter is whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty.

      This gets tricky with sex crimes because sex crimes are really two different things. You have the legally codified crime and than you have the social construct where sexual assault represents thousands of years of sexism and misogyny towards women and domination of the powerful over the powerless. The latter definition gets into conflict with what many of us see as the basis of a fair and just criminal justice system.

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