Judge who gave Ohio's Brock Turner short sentence for sexual assault likely recalled

Voters in Santa Clara County, California look to have voted to recall Judge Aaron Persky, who sentenced Greene County resident Brock Turner to just six months in jail for a 2016 sexual assault on the campus of Stanford University

Jun 6, 2018 at 11:31 am

click to enlarge Brock Turner after his arrest for sexual assault
Brock Turner after his arrest for sexual assault

Voters in California’s Santa Clara County yesterday likely approved the recall of a judge who sentenced Ohio resident Brock Turner to a controversially short six months in prison for a 2016 sexual assault the campus of Stanford University.

Turner, who lives in Greene County, near Dayton, was convicted of three felony counts in California in connection to an incident in which he was found behind a dumpster with an unconscious female fellow Stanford student. Witnesses said he had removed her underwear and sexually assaulted her.

“You have dragged me through this hell with you, dipped me back into that night again and again,” Turner’s victim, who has remained anonymous, said in court statements. “You knocked down both our towers. I collapsed at the same time you did. Your damage was concrete, stripped of titles, degrees, enrollment. My damage was internal, unseen. I carry it with me.”

The maximum sentence for those counts was 14 years. But after his conviction, Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky rejected a prosecutor’s request for a six year prison sentence, instead sentencing Turner to just six months in jail and three years' probation. Turner eventually served just three months of his time, though he was also required to register as a sex offender and leave Stanford.

The sentence sparked volcanic anger from activists across the country, who saw Turner’s race, socioeconomic status and his spot on Stanford’s celebrated swim team as factors in his light sentence. Persky says he took into account the fact that both Turner and his victim had been drinking in explaining the sentence.

Following Turner’s sentencing, Stanford Law School professor Michele Dauber began a recall effort against Persky, arguing that the judge has a history of leniency against male sexual assault perpetrators. If it is successful, as initial vote tallies suggest it was, he will be the first judge recalled in the United States since 1977, and the first in California since 1932. Early poll results show almost 60 percent of Santa Clara County voters moved to oust Persky.

"Persky has repeatedly abused his discretion on behalf of abusers,” Dauber said in a statement last month. “As a result, voters in this county have lost confidence in his ability to be fair."

Persky, however, says that recalling him will compromise the independence of judges. Last month, he controversially compared Turner’s case to another decision unpopular at the time — Brown v. Board of Education, which ordered that public schools across the country be integrated.

"We promise as judges to rule based on the facts and the law and not on public opinion," he told reporters in May. "When public opinion influences a juror's opinion, or a judge's opinion, it corrupts the rule of law."