A sexual assault case at Stanford has become a flashpoint in the already-controversial (to put it mildly) national debates around criminal justice, gender, wealth, and race.
On January 17th, then-Stanford student Brock Turner and a young woman visiting the school attended a frat party. By the end of the night, the woman was rushed to the hospital and Brock Turner was pinned to the ground by two other male students.
What happened in between is the subject of the highly charged case. The two witnesses say "the girl clearly wasn't moving," and Turner was "aggressively thrusting his hips into her." The woman also recounted her experience during the court case in a statement worth reading in full.
Turner was convicted of felony sexual assault.
But that's just the beginning of the controversy. Turner's conviction carries a potential 14 years in prison—but he was sentenced by Judge Aaron Persky to only 6 months in county jail. The judge believed "a prison sentence would have a severe impact on him."
Why is it important?
The conviction, which came down in March, inspired some news. But the sentence, delivered on June 2nd, prompted public outrage.
Many argue that Turner's sentence was an unfair result of his status as a white, wealthy, All-American athlete. There's a lot to unpack: a sympathetic image for a white judge, the ability to hire the best lawyers when many go without adequate representation, a media narrative about lost potential, and much more.
People across the country are calling for the Judge Persky's impeachment. One petition alone has over 1 million signatures. That's more than the population of San Francisco. The petitions themselves are hotly debated—when should a judge's ruling lead to his removal from the bench? Should judges be held accountable in the court of public opinion?
Should Judge Persky be impeached for giving Brock Turner a 6 month sentence?
Recalling Judge Persky implies something dangerous: that judges should consider the popularity of sentences before ruling.
Those who advocate for the judge's removal haven't considered the consequences. Encouraging judges to consider public opinion will lead to more textbook sentences—i.e. harsher punishments—and minorities and low income people will bear the brunt of this shift.
There is a time and a place for the public's voice to be heard. Judge Persky is elected. In fact, he began a new term on Tuesday. That is when we should voice concerns, not immediately after a controversial case or as the result of mob mentality.
Even for those who deeply disagree with the sentence, impeaching or recalling the judge is not justice. The local district attorney, Jeff Rosen, sets the right example: he believes the sentence was far too lenient but also opposes the petitions to remove Judge Persky. We should all channel his clarity of mind.
If we accept Judge Persky's sentence, we accept a system that prioritizes social class over equal justice.
This case was full of excuses for a convicted sex offender. Brock Turner faced up to 14 years, but the prosecutor recommended 6 years—already a miscarriage of justice. Then, Judge Presky sentenced Turner to 6 months. In the end, he'll probably serve 3 months or less.
The victim described the consequences of such a lenient sentence best, as "a soft timeout, a mockery of the seriousness of his assaults, an insult to me and all women."
She continued, "it gives the message that a stranger can be inside you without proper consent and he will receive less than what has been defined as the minimum sentence."
There is a difference between judicial discretion and complete neglect of justice and the equal rights of the people a judge presides over. A judge who chooses the latter no longer deserves to preside at all.
- The victim's statement to the court and to Brock Turner
- Brock Turner's statement to the court
- Brock Turner's parents' letters to the court (and the deeply critical response)
- Vice President Joe Biden's open letter to the victim
- A CNN breakdown of the main figures in the case—and what's next for them
- The procedures for removing a sitting judge in California