Recall the Stanford Rape Judge!

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Sorta transcript:

Brock Turner is a rapist who was just convicted of assaulting a woman while she was unconscious behind a dumpster near Stanford University. The facts of the case are inarguable, as two witnesses happened upon the assault as it was taking place, and when Turner saw them, he took off running. His defense was that he didn’t realize the woman was unconscious and he thought it was all consensual, which makes absolutely zero sense. “Whoops, I had no idea the person I was inside was completely dead to the world, and I really just thought a dumpster was the best place to have sex, and I ran when those witnesses saw me because….because I suddenly wanted to go for a jog and it’s just a coincidence?

Despite the fact that it was an open and shut case, Turner took his excuse to trial, where a jury found him guilty. Judge Aaron Persky, though, felt sorry for him, sentencing him to only 6 months in prison, which is 18 months fewer than the minimum prescribed sentence for his crime. A lot of people are pointing out that Persky is a former Stanford athlete, just like Turner, but the sad fact is that you don’t even need to know about that kind of conflict of interest to guess that this would happen, since rapists are hardly ever prosecuted, and when they are they’re hardly ever convicted, and when they are the rich white ones generally get a sweet deal. In fact, the judge was likely basing his sentencing on the recommendation of the probation officer, who was also extremely sympathetic to the rapist.

What makes this case particularly frustrating is that just prior to the judge’s extremely lenient sentencing, the victim in the case delivered one of the most amazing speeches I’ve ever read in my life. If you haven’t read it yet, you owe it to yourself and to others to stop what you’re doing — yes, even watching this video, just pause it right here — and go read every single word that she wrote. I can only imagine that Judge Persky was busy playing solitaire or something while she read her statement, because it is incredibly moving. She describes what she experienced both immediately after the rape and in the months that came as she was subjected to invasive questioning and a complete breakdown in her regular life. She’s been forever, irrevocably changed by Turner’s actions, and she described it all so clearly and so perfectly that there’s no way Judge Persky could have actually listened to that and still focused completely on how awful it would be if Turner would be punished, for what Turner’s father described as “20 minutes of action.”

It’s a complete miscarriage of justice, and the only good news is that a Stanford law professor, Michele Landis Dauber, is leading a formal process to recall Judge Persky and get him off the bench. You can sign a petition at Change.org to show your support or fill out an official complaint form with the State of California–as usual, all links are on my Patreon.

Possibly the worst part of all of this is that Turner’s lawyer is planning to appeal the jury’s ruling, anyway, which will put the victim through even more torture, forcing her to relive her rape over and over and over again. Considering the current research showing that most rapists are serial rapists, let’s hope the appeal fails and that we can at least keep a rapist off the streets for a few short months.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon mstdn.social/@rebeccawatson Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky @rebeccawatson.bsky.social

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  1. Rebecca, obviously the Stanford swimmer did a very bad thing. In my personal opinion, he probably should have received more than a 6-month sentence. However, the tragedy of the disparity between his sentence and the many, much longer sentences that poor people and people of color disproportionately receive for similar crimes and for nonviolent drug offenses is that there is a disparity such that lacking wealth and whiteness makes defendants susceptible to harsh sentences — not that having wealth and whiteness makes the criminal justice system more humane.

    People can disagree with a judge’s sentencing without calling for the judge to be recalled for it, and calling for his recall can have negative consequences that predominantly affect poor people and people of color.

    Please read this: http://bit.ly/21fQbvz

    1. I was really hoping to find anything that might present a compelling rebuttal in your link, but nope. Judges are public servants. They should be accountable.

      1. No one is arguing against accountability.

        I’m arguing that having a million people like you who know very little about this case and even less about this judge calling for him to lose his job is not an effective form of accountability. Please don’t do this. It makes the world a worse place, and in a way that predominantly affects people very unlike you — defendants who are poor and Black or Latino.

  2. Just so. Nationwide efforts to recall a judge for “only” caging another human being for six months have enormous consequences to poor people, and black people. Of course, the do-gooders don’t care about them that much, which is why there are no recall efforts when someone is sentenced to particularly brutal sentences, and why 2.3 million people currently languish in jail and prison.

  3. I agree that the judge’s sentence was ridiculously low, and I’d be all in favor of him being investigated by the Judicial Ethics Commission. But I can’t get behind the idea of a voter recall. The entire notion of electing judges is terrible, judges are supposed to be there to apply the law, even when it’s unpopular. They’re supposed to act without the threat of political pressure and the judiciary is supposed to be a hedge against mob mentality. The fact that we elect judges incentiveizes them to hand out harsher sentences, longer penalties, so that they can run on “tough on crime” platforms. That almost invariably comes at the expense of the poor and minorities.

    Do I think the judge fucked up here? Absolutely. But I think it’s more important to defend the larger ethical principle of an independent judiciary, even if we’re very far from meeting that standard in practice.

  4. I honestly find it really disgusting how many people are ready to excuse blatantly racist and misogynistic sentencing and hiding it behind the fact that black men are unjustly convicted and imprisoned at a higher rate.

    1. How many petitions are there to recall judges who are too harsh? How many well-meaning essays and videos have been made about a judge who puts people in prison for too long?

      Black people aren’t just convicted and imprisoned at higher rates – they are policed and arrested at a higher rate too. This has nothing to do with judges, but it does mean that for every person who looks like Brock Turner appearing in front of a judge, between 2-10 black people will be appearing in front of a judge who has learned how mad society gets when he or she shows “leniency.” Considering most judges are primarily concerned with remaining employed as judges, it seems like a poor message from the “social justice” community, unless the message we want to send is more prison for everyone.

      1. Your slippery slope argument is inane. Arguing “more prison for rich white rapists” is nothing like “more prison for everyone.” And by the way, continually referring to Turner’s months in prison as being “caged” in multiple comments isn’t making me feel sorry for him. He destroyed another human’s life, showed no remorse, and is continuing to damage that victim while showing no remorse.

        And by the way, there are many, many campaigns underway to stop racist policing and sentencing that puts more black men in prison for non-violent crimes, and I support them.

    2. They don’t seem to understand that it’s possible to campaign against sentences that are at either end of the spectrum *at the same time*.

      I’d be more interested in how many will still be making the same arguement in a year or too. I’m guessing not too many.

    3. Rebecca, I know people who have worked with this judge for years who say that he is one of the most intelligent and humane judges on the bench, who say that they’re confident that he would have given a Black defendant in a similar case a similar sentence and who say it would be a terrible loss for poor people and people of color if he is removed from the bench. Personally, I think that this defendant probably should have received a stiffer sentence, but I also don’t think that judges should necessarily should lose their jobs for a single mistaken sentence in a stellar career.

      People who are calling for a good man to lose his job on the basis of flawed news reports that they’ve read about a case that they know only a tiny amount about are being irresponsible.

      Evidence that the sentencing is racist would be an example of a case that’s comparable except for the race of the defendant, where this judge gave a significantly harsher sentence. But of course you have no such evidence.

      You can be disgusted and blindly call for him to be fired, and you’re helping to bring about a worse world in multiple respects. Please don’t do this.

      1. What pertinent details of the case do you think should have been included in the reporting?

    4. Who’s ready to excuse it? I don’t like the sentence at all, I wish his sentence was much harsher, and I think the judge’s bias was disgraceful. If the Judicial Ethics Commission found it worth of investigation and punished the judge, I would be fine with that. I don’t know if they will or not, I have no idea what standards they have to prove that he committed a breach of ethics.
      The principle of an independent judiciary is a necessary one to strive for. This would be true even if the criminal justice system weren’t already incredibly biased against certain groups. Judges have to be free to make decisions that are free of political influence, to extent that’s possible. You can pressure legislators to write the laws you want, but being able to pressure the judiciary in their application of them is a dangerous way to go. It allows for whichever group has the most power and influence to bias decisions in their favor and compromises the rule of law.

      Elizabeth Warren, just a few days ago, gave an impassioned defense of the need to maintain an independent judiciary. She was targeting the creeping influence of the wealthy on the justice system. You couldn’t criticize the rich and powerful for compromising the judiciary if you’re willing to do the same when the decisions are unpopular with your side. Try to imagine conservatives being able to launch a recall against a judge every time they made a decision that they thought was wrong.

      When you advocate for something like this, you can’t look at the case you dislike in isolation, think about the broader effect the policy you’re advocating has. How is that policy likely to be implemented given the power structures of society? And most importantly, how will people you disagree with use that power?

      1. omfgscience:
        You don’t know that the judge was biased (presumably you mean racially biased). As I said above, “Evidence that the sentencing is racist would be an example of a case that’s comparable except for the race of the defendant, where this judge gave a significantly harsher sentence.” People who have actually worked as public defenders in front of this judge, on behalf of indigent clients of color, believe that he would have rendered a similar sentence to a black defendant in a similar case. Please don’t assume bias where you don’t have evidence.

        1. Fair enough, I have no idea if he was actually biased. I think it’s likely that his life is similar enough to Brock’s that he found it easy to empathize with him, but I don’t know if that’s the case. Which is another reason this shouldn’t be decided by public outcry, but by an impartial commission.

          1. Yes. My initial take was similar to yours — “This is evidence of the institutionalized racism of America’s criminal justice system.”

            And I said essentially this to friends of mine who are public defenders who work in front of this judge, and they told me (correctly) that I had no idea what I was talking about. There are mountains of evidence that America’s criminal justice system perpetuates terrible racial inequality, but as far as whether this particular sentence by this particular judge is evidence of the larger undeniable trend, I have no idea, and people who know much more than I do tell me it isn’t the case. And I believe them, because they have devoted their lives to fighting institutionalized racism by choosing to be public defenders.

  5. Not following the “logic” of those of you in favor of essentially ignoring one problem simply because (you believe) that there is another even worse problem.

    It is undeniable that most or even all laws are applied unevenly, but continuing to allow “the white guy to get off easy” has NEVER done anything to solve that problem. ONLY by highlighting that fact and actually subjecting EVERYONE to the same punishment regardless of race, creed or color will we ever be able to revamp the justice system to actually be fair and impartial.

    And if you’re worried about sending the wrong message to judges, well guess what? The message they’re currently getting is primarily responsible for the mess we’re in. The system works the way it does BECAUSE no one complains very loud about injustice towards minorities as long as the white boys don’t suffer.

    We need to fix the whole system — not just allow it to continue unchecked simply because we are afraid of making it worse.

    Regarding Brock Turner, I’m sure that his family and friends (and apparently the judge) feel that “he’s young and his whole life shouldn’t be ruined because of a simple mistake”. And THAT IS THE PROBLEM!! It wasn’t just a “simple mistake” — it was a violent crime against a helpless victim. If society was doing its job correctly, he would know that.

    Everyone that age already knows that some crimes (e.g. murder, robbery, etc.) are serious because they are subject to high penalties. Presumably, this is an effective deterrent because relatively few people commit these crimes. Rape should be treated and punished like the violent crime it actually is. Then, and only then, will the law have a chance of acting as the deterrent it is supposed to be.

    1. It would be nice if we could just redesign society in a way that pleases everyone, but this is unlikely. Brock Turner was ordered caged for six months, will be watched for three years, and register for life. This is supposedly an unacceptable low sentence, which means the lesson we want to teach is future defendants receive even harsher punishments than they get now. The bulk of these defendants will be poor people of color. There’s no way to just skip around that fact like it doesn’t exist.

      1. Umm … no one is saying that all “future defendants (should) receive even harsher punishments than they get now.” That is your straw man.

        BUT, if rich white boys get off easier than anyone else, there is far less public outcry (or at least the highly visible, EFFECTIVE kind) to fix the laws and sentencing guidelines. This is undeniable. Many people have been complaining about sentencing disparity for years, but literally nothing has changed.

        Even more important, if rich white boys “with their whole life ahead of them” continue to get off with a slap on the wrist, then there is very little deterrent effect to prevent similar crimes in the future. And make no mistake, three months (effective, according to every news report) in jail (not prison) is NOTHING compared to what the victims of these crimes live through for the rest of their lives.

  6. The dude’s running for re-election unopposed right now.

    What I find disgusting is finding guys saying “Now he’ll be on the sex offender list for life.” And yes, he will. We’re not talking about a piss in the park here. We’re talking about rape, a.k.a. the whole reason the list exists in the first place.

    But I wouldn’t worry too much. His family’s rich, a lot of these campus rapists’ families are; psychologically, they have extreme feelings of entitlement. So he’ll never need to be employed. And yeah, any woman he’s with will just have to do a quick Google search to remember that he’s a rapist; again, I don’t consider being able to Google someone and find out he’s a rapist a bad thing.

    1. I don’t think people are suggesting that it’s a bad thing that he’s on the sex offender list. I think they’re pointing out part of the very real punishment that he’s receiving. I’m not sure why you find this disgusting.

  7. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

    Well would you look at that.

    Your objections are noted but it looks like it’s still within Rebecca’s rights to do exactly as she is doing.

    Feel free to support a counter petition, as is your right.

    1. Indeed. In this particular case, this is why all those downticket things we all forget about are important. The dude is currently running for re-election unopposed.

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