Three months ago, former Stanford student Brock Turner was convicted on three counts of sexual felony assault, for crimes he committed against an intoxicated and unconscious woman next to a dumpster outside a frat party.
Today, he is being released from Santa Clara County Jail after serving just half of his six-month sentence.
While state law prescribes a minimum of two years in state prison for convictions like Turner’s, Judge Aaron Persky contended that a “prison sentence would have a severe impact” on the 20-year-old, who was attending Stanford on a swimming scholarship and had no prior criminal record.
So Judge Persky opted for what legal experts subsequently described as “an unusually lenient” six-month sentence.
The low impact of this lenient sentence has been lowered even further because Turner is getting time off for good behavior. For casually assaulting a passed-out woman he’d crossed paths with at a party, Turner spent 92 days in jail.
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 our demand for reform.
That’s why I’m supporting a campaign on Crowdpac.com to recall Judge Aaron Persky and donating $25,000 to this cause.
Judge Persky was supposed to be up for election this year. Because no challengers filed to run against him before a deadline passed in March — i.e., before he administered Turner’s low-impact sentence — he started a new six-year term in early June.
The campaign to recall Judge Persky can officially begin collecting signatures next year — and when they collect approximately 80,000 signatures from registered voters in Santa Clara County, a special recall election will be held in November 2017.
All told, the recall effort’s organizers anticipate that it will cost $1 million to collect the necessary signatures and mount a campaign that results in victory. That’s why supporters of the initiative have organized a crowdfunding campaign on Crowdpac.com, and why I’m contributing to this cause.
Should one case determine a judge’s fate? In fact, this isn’t the first time that Judge Persky has shown questionable judgment in cases involving violence toward women.
As the Sacramento Bee noted in June 2016, Judge Persky promised citizens in 2002 that he would be “fair, honest, and dedicated to justice for all” if they elected him.
But in what way was he being dedicated to justice for the woman whom Turner assaulted, and sexual assault victims in general, when he clearly showed greater concern for Turner’s wellbeing than he did for the incident’s victim?
In placing so much emphasis on the “severe impact” a lengthier sentence might have on Turner, Judge Persky implicitly signaled his disregard for the impact Turner’s actions had on the woman he assaulted. And yet this woman had expressed that impact with devastating candor in a statement she read at Turner’s sentencing hearing.
“You took away my worth, my privacy, my energy, my time, my safety, my intimacy, my confidence, my own voice, until today,” she told Turner.
She spoke of the fear she feels when attending social events or even just walking somewhere at night, and how undermining it is to “move through life always guarded, ready to defend myself, ready to be angry.”
And she captured, with great clarity, the larger cultural implications of what a lenient sentence would signal: “The probation officer’s recommendation of a year or less in county jail is a soft timeout, a mockery of the seriousness of his assaults, an insult to me and all women. It gives the message that a stranger can be inside you without proper consent and he will receive less than what has been defined as the minimum sentence.”
As the woman’s statement alludes, the Santa Clara County Probation Department recommended a sentence of a year or less in county jail for Turner — a halving of what state laws prescribes as a minimum sentence and another indication that the problem of discounting sexual violence toward women is systemic.
Judge Persky had an opportunity here to counteract the Probation Department’s questionable guidance — and impose a sentence more appropriate to the crime that had been committed.
Instead, in the face of the woman’s testimony, Judge Persky did exactly what she feared he might. He “quietly excused” Brock Turner with a six-month sentence that ultimately manifested as 92 days in jail.
If we truly want to create a legal system that brings justice to all — a system that recognizes that physically assaulting an unconscious human being is not some form of sexual shoplifting, a petty misdemeanor where a 90-day sentence is adequate — then we must not quietly excuse Judge Persky.
Giving citizens of Santa Clara County an opportunity to hold Judge Persky accountable for his sentencing decision is a necessary first step toward larger systemic reform. That’s why I’m supporting this recall effort, and why I hope others will join me in this effort.
This post was originally published here on September 2, 2016