On September 2nd, 2016, Brock Turner was released after spending three months in the Santa Clara County jail – only half of his six months sentence, a sentence which many believe was already far too lenient. The case, which was highly publicized, brought attention not only to the ongoing issue of how CA sexual assault victims are treated but also to Judge Aaron Persky, who many claim has a history of giving easy sentences to offenders.
On January 18th, 2015, two international students contacted police after they had chased and restrained a man who they noticed he was on top of a woman whose skirt and shirt were pulled up. They decided to approach the couple after they realized that the woman was, in fact, unconscious. It was at that point that Turner ran and they pursued.
Turner was arrested and charged with two counts of rape, two counts of felony assault, and one count of attempted rape. The charges of rape were dropped after a DNA test came back.
His trial began on March 14th, 2016 and lasted 16 days. If convicted of all charges, there was the potential that he could be sentenced to 14 years in prison, although prosecutors recommended a reduced sentence of 6 years.
During the trial, the court heard from witnesses, medical experts, and even the defendant’s parents. His father begged the judge to overlook his son’s “20 minutes of action” because he hadn’t been convicted of any other crimes previously. In response, the victim read a 12-page moving statement detailing the victim-shaming she had been put through and how the attack had changed her life. She was hoping that the court would recognize the seriousness of the issue and follow in the footsteps of Stanford University, which had banned the defendant from ever setting foot on campus property – the most serious punishment the school could impose on a former student.
At the end of the highly publicized trial, due to the defendant’s status as a student-athlete at Stanford University, people throughout the country were shocked when, after the defendant was found guilty, Judge Persky announced that he had decided a six-month sentence with probation was appropriate because “A prison sentence would have a severe impact.” Turner only served half of that sentence and was released after three months for good behavior.
Within days of the ruling, a petition with hundreds of thousands of signatures had been created, calling for the recall of Judge Persky. Even Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen spoke out about the sentencing, saying “The punishment does not fit the crime.”
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A Stanford law professor, Michele Landis Dauber, is heading a group which is working to remove Perksey from the bench. She has looked into his past rulings and found a disturbing trend – that he seems to frequently give light sentences for serious crimes.
In one case, where a 48-year old man had been found with hundreds of child pornography images and videos, including one showing an adult sexually involved with a child, a crime which typically results in sentencing of several years in prison, Persky sentenced the defendant to just four days in jail and three years probation. He even indicated that after a year of probation, provided the man was on good behavior, that he would reduce the charge against him from a felony to a misdemeanor.
In an another shocking case, a male engineer in Silicon Valley was charged with a domestic violence felony for causing serious bodily injury to his fiance. The police had arrived at his home after his fiancee called 911. Officers found her bleeding, bruised, scratched, and with severe swelling on her face and other parts of her body. She reported that her attacker had punched her repeatedly, thrown her around by her hair, and said, “Don’t think I won’t kill you.” This wasn’t the first time he had beaten her. She pressed charges, convinced that she would see justice due to the fact that she had strong evidence – police reports, witness statements from her fiance’s roommate, and photographs of her injuries.
Throughout her trial, she reports that those in the courtroom seemed to understand the horror and torture that she endured – even reporting that as pictures of her injured body were shown, audible gasps could be heard and some people covered their eyes. But Persky seemed more annoyed at having to listen than anything else, in fact, during her testimony, he interrupted her numerous times and asked her to “speed things up”.
Ultimately, despite the fact that the defendant pleaded “no contest” to the charges – charges which typically result in several years of jail time – he sentenced him to 12 weeks of weekend jail time so that the defendant could continue to work his full-time job Monday – Friday without interruption.
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Dauber has stated that “It’s clearly a pattern of failing to take violence against women seriously.”
As the facts of previous rulings have come to light, many have joined the fight to have Persky recalled, including LinkedIn founder, Reid Hoffman. The Stanford graduate wrote a blog post about the funds he had donated to the cause, saying “This woefully unjust sentence sends a powerful message about how our culture systematically discounts and excuses sexual violence against women. To counteract that message, we must send equally powerful messages that signal out demand for reform.”