In recent years, campus sexual assault has become an increasingly common problem facing lawmakers, administrators, and students. Studies show that one in five women are sexually assaulted on a college campus, but less than half of these cases are reported to police, and even fewer result in jail time for the alleged attacker.
Recently, Stanford University student Brock Turner was sentenced to jail for sexually assaulting a woman behind a dumpster on campus in January 2015. After Turner’s sentence was delivered, his case became national news and swept social media feeds across the country.
But why? It comes down to his sentence.
Six Months Too Light of a Sentence?
Turner was found guilty on three counts: assault with intent to commit rape of an intoxicated or unconscious person, penetration of an intoxicated person, and penetration of an unconscious person. Originally, he had also been charged with two counts of penetration with a foreign object, but those charges were dropped in late October when the trial began.
The consequences of his conviction? Turner was sentenced to six months in county prison with three years’ probation. Compare that with the typical sentence in California for someone convicted of sexual assault or rape of three, six, or eight years in state prison. Quite a difference, right?
So it should come as no surprise that many sources who have commented on the sentence believe six months in county prison is a mere slap on the wrist, and is not a suitable sentence for a crime like Turner’s. A petition has even been drawn up calling for Persky to step down from his position.
How Did the Judge Come to His Decision?
The prosecution had asked the judge to sentence Turner to six years in state prison for his crimes. So why didn’t he?
Many credit Turner’s high-profile attorney and aggressive defense strategy as factors in Turner’s short sentence. Throughout, he maintained his not guilty plea, arguing that the act was consensual and blaming it on alcohol and Stanford’s “party culture.” His father even wrote a letter that was shared with the court detailing how Turner was depressed, anxious, had little appetite, and generally seemed like a shadow of his former self.
During his sentencing, Superior court Judge Aaron Persky said that a longer sentence would have had a “severe impact” on Turner. Persky also noted Turner’s lack of a criminal record. And even though Turner pleaded not guilty, Persky argued that Turner’s “lack of complete acquiescence to the verdict should [not] count against him.”
Was Turner’s sentence too short? It’s a hard call.
You have to remember that incarceration is just the beginning. After his six months behind bars, Turner must register as a sex offender, and his name will remain on the sex offender registry for life. It will be public knowledge, and since his case went viral, Turner is likely going to have a hard time avoiding recognition. Being convicted as a felon will also restrict Turner’s access to housing, federal loans for higher education, and more. His life will never be the same.
How the Outcry Could Affect Your Sexual Assault Case
Whether Turner’s sentence is “fair” or not is a matter of opinion. Unfortunately for those who may be facing sex crime charges, a lot of people are outraged.
Remember that petition we mentioned earlier to get Judge Persky removed? 240,000 people signed it. This kind of public outcry is the sort of thing that may put nationwide pressure on prosecutors and law enforcement officials to give harsh sentences to people who are accused of or charged with sexual assault.
And the penalties for sexual assault in Colorado are even more severe than California’s. Here, sexual assault is classified as a Class 2, 3, or 4 felony. The amount of force used, physical injuries suffered by the victim, or the use of date rape drugs all are factors used to classify a sexual assault. The penalties for each type of sexual assault are as follows:
- Class 2 felony: 16-48 years in prison, fines up to $1,000,000, and/or 5 years of mandatory parole
- Class 3 felony: 8-24 years in prison, fines up to $750,000, and/or 5 years of mandatory parole
- Class 4 felony: 4-12 years in prison, fines up to $500,000, and/or 3 years of mandatory parole
If you are convicted of sexual assault (or any sex crime) in Colorado, you will also have to register as a sex offender. Additionally, being convicted of a felony in Colorado has its own automatic consequences, including the loss of a right to own a handgun.
So if you have been accused of, or charged with, sexual assault, it is more important than ever to construct a solid defense to prove your innocence or get your charges reduced or dropped. Contact an experienced Colorado defense attorney today to discuss your case, your options, and the best defense for you.
About the Author:
Kimberly Diego is a criminal defense attorney in Denver practicing at The Law Office of Kimberly Diego. She obtained her undergraduate degree from Georgetown University and her law degree at the University of Colorado. She was named one of Super Lawyers’ “Rising Stars of 2012” and “Top 100 Trial Lawyers in Colorado” for 2012-2016 by The National Trial Lawyers. Both honors are limited to a small percentage of practicing attorneys in each state. She has also been recognized for her work in domestic violence cases.