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Light sentence for Stanford swimmer in sexual assault 'extraordinary,' legal experts say

Light sentence for Stanford swimmer in sexual assault 'extraordinary,' legal experts say
Brock Turner, shown in a January 2015 booking photo released by the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office. (Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office via AP)

The six-month sentence given to a former Stanford University swimmer after he was convicted of sexual assault is unusually low for such a case, legal experts said, but will probably stand despite widespread criticism.

Santa Clara County prosecutors had asked that Brock Turner be sentenced to six years in prison for the January 2015 attack on a woman. But Judge Aaron Persky chose to sentence Turner, 20, to six months in jail and three years' probation while requiring him to register as a sex offender for life.

The sentence, which came after Turner was convicted of three sexual assault charges, has generated outrage in some quarters, especially after an emotional letter written by the victim was made public last week.

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"It is very unusual to have six months and probation in a case like this.  The assault with intent to commit rape usually carries a prison sentence," said Dmitry Gorin, a former L.A. County sex crimes prosecutor. "His background and no [criminal] record were a major factor. I cannot think of a similar local case where a defendant convicted by a jury of such a violent crime avoided prison."

Turner faced up 14 years in prison after his conviction in March on three felony counts: Assault with intent to commit rape of an intoxicated person, sexual penetration of an intoxicated person with a foreign object and sexual penetration of an unconscious person with a foreign object.

"Those convictions alone should send him to prison," said Steve Cooley, Los Angeles County's former district attorney. "It's an extraordinary sentence. He'll spend just 90 days in the county jail after being convicted on three sexual assault charges."

The standard sentence for those crimes is six years, he said.

"That is what I'd expect him to receive," Cooley said.

Prosecutors, he said, have the right to appeal the sentencing decision, but a reversal by an appeals court on the grounds of abuse of discretion is rare.

The judge and probation officials noted Turner's youth and lack of a prior criminal history in going with the six-month sentence. According to a probation report released Monday, officials recommended a "moderate" jail sentence because he had no criminal history and because his intoxication level – about 0.13% blood-alcohol concentration – reduced the seriousness of the crime.

The judge said that a stiffer sentence would have a "severe impact" on Turner. "I think he will not be a danger to others," the judge said.

Turner was able to avoid prison in part because two of five original charges filed against him were dropped at a preliminary hearing.

Those two charges were the most serious: rape of an intoxicated person and rape of an unconscious person.  Deputy Dist. Atty. Alaleh Kianerci said the rape charges were filed based on the police report but after received the results of DNA testing on the rape kit prosecutors opted  to drop those charges. More details about the DNA testing were not available.

Turner was arrested after two graduate students found him on top of a half-naked unconscious woman Jan. 18. They chased him and held him until police arrived.

Anger over Turner's sentencing escalated after Stanford University School of Law professor Michele Dauber released excerpts online of a letter Turner's father penned to the court.

Dan A. Turner wrote that his son's and family's lives had been completely altered because of the verdict. "That is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life," he wrote.

In an emotional 12-page statement originally published on BuzzFeed, the rape victim detailed her psychological trauma.

She called the probation officer's recommendation of a year or less in county jail "a soft time-out, a mockery of the seriousness of his assaults, and of the consequences of the pain I have been forced to endure."

The furor spurred a recall effort this week against the judge. But any effort to unseat the judge will be extremely difficult, according to experts.

Judges are rarely recalled from office in California. Most who do leave office are removed following an investigation by the state Commission on Judicial Performance with a hearing on an issue of serious abuse, according to Loyola Law professor Laurie Levenson.

"Judges almost never get recalled even when people are upset about a sentence," Levenson said Tuesday.

Gorin said Orange County's bench has, in recent years, been the place where activists have targeted judges for their sentencing decisions.

An effort to recall Orange County Superior Court Judge M. Marc Kelly for sentencing a child molester to 10 years instead of 25 years to life failed this year. Nancy Wieben Stock, a now-retired Orange County judge, weathered an unsuccessful recall effort in the 1990s after she awarded O.J. Simpson custody of his two children after he was acquitted of killing his wife and the children's mother, Nicole Brown Simpson.

Persky is one of 25 judges who are running unopposed in Santa Clara County this election year. Because Persky and the others face no opposition, their names won't appear on Tuesday's California primary election ballots. They probably won't appear on the November general election ballot either.

MORE ON THE STANFORD CASE

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