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After Public Outcry for Light Sentences, Some Judges Revisit the Way They Handle Sex Crimes

After Public Outcry for Light Sentences, Some Judges Revisit the Way They Handle Sex Crimes

The light sentence handed down by a California judge for a young man’s rape conviction led to public outcry, and some Minnesota judges are changing the way that they view sex crimes as a result. This high-profile case could have implications that reach much further than the state level and influence the way that judges hand down sentences for similar convictions across the country. While some judges are in agreement with the decision, others feel that the punishment didn’t fit the crime.

The Case that Sparked Change

The case of a top Stanford swimmer who was sentenced to just six months in county jail and three months of probation in a sexual assault case led to outrage around the country. Observed and stopped by two reliable witnesses, many were shocked at the leniency afforded after such a severe crime. Convicted on three separate felony counts, prosecutors sought a sentence of six years for the offender. The maximum sentence carries up to 14 years in prison.

The judge considered the student’s lack of criminal history and promising athletic and academic career in his decision and expressed concern about the impact a harsh sentence would have on him. After a 12-page written statement by the victim went public and was circulated around the country, anti-violence advocates created an online petition to remove the judge. Over a million people signed the petition.

Sex Offender Sentencing in Minnesota

In the state of Minnesota, judges have certain sentencing guidelines that must be followed, except in rare circumstances. In many Minnesota counties, a pre-sentence investigation is completed and the defendant’s educational and family background, marital status, number of children, criminal history, alcohol and drug use and psychological and medical health may be considered. Judges may use some discretion when sentencing, but remain within a specific grid.

Victim’s oral or verbal statements may also be considered, but so may statements from the defendant’s family, friends, employers, teachers or the like. These statements are not provided in every case, but this is certainly not unusual.

Could Changes to the Law be on the Way?

Unfortunately, sexual assault by college students is a common phenomenon. Young adults in a new environment often act fearless, especially after consuming alcohol. In fact, up to 20 percent of college-aged men admit to committing sexual assault. Many lawmakers are now expressing concern over the consequences that have been doled out to affluent, white students. Following public discussion of the sentencing, there has been some talk by legislators across the United States about measures that could prevent such light sentences.

Already on the table in California are the following:

Mandatory minimums: Just three weeks after the sentencing, legislation was introduced that would require mandatory prison time for specific types of sexual assaults. A legal exemption in the Stanford case allowed the defendant to receive probation, rather than prison time for two of his three convictions. This legislation would eliminate this exemption.

Redefinition of Rape: In California, the crimes committed in the Stanford case did not fall under the legal definition of rape. Because the victim was not conscious, the act was not considered to be forced, even if consent was not granted. State lawmakers are now attempting to update the state code’s definition to include additional acts that are currently considered sexual assault.

In Minnesota, both sexual assault and rape are legally referred to as criminal sexual conduct. Minnesota has five specific levels of criminal sexual conduct that differ based on the type of activity and the age of the victim.

The judge, in this case, has already been disqualified from presiding over another sexual assault case involving an unconscious victim. Additional consequences may also be in his future. In California, a judge, who is an elected official, can be recalled, if enough signatures are obtained to do so. Minnesota also allows judges to be recalled, but only under very specific circumstances. This very public outcry for a recall could also be a catalyst for changes to the law.

This wouldn’t be the first time that a US judge was recalled for their handling of a rape case. Two such recalls happened in California in 1913 and Wisconsin in 1977. The current recall efforts may influence the decisions that judges in other states make, in hopes of avoiding the same. This could mean that some judges hand down sentences that they believe will not be considered too lenient, in order to prevent upset in their community.

What changes to Minnesota law are to come are still unknown. A sex crime attorney in Minneapolis, MN can provide additional information on the law and possible sentencing in these types of cases.

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