Judge in Turner case faces criticism after citing lack of criminal record, remorse in sentencing decision

June 6, 2016, 6:51 p.m.

Criticism of Santa Clara County Judge Aaron Persky ’84 M.A. ’85 erupted nationwide following the sentencing of Brock Turner to six months in jail and three years of probation on June 2. A protest is currently being planned for the Commencement tradition Wacky Walk, and multiple petitions to recall Persky and as well as a petition calling for more University support for sexual assault victims are circulating on social media.

At Turner’s sentencing hearing on June 2, Persky began by acknowledging that the decision was difficult. He said he was partly relying on Rule 4.413(c)(2)(c), which has to do with probation eligibility. The rule states that there is limited culpability if “the defendant is youthful or aged, and has no significant record of prior criminal offenses.”

After revealing his decision, Persky detailed both aggravating and mitigating factors for the sentencing decision.

Aggravating factors, or those which favor extending the sentence, cited by the judge included the following: deep physical and psychological harm inflicted upon the victim and vulnerability of the victim at the time of the crime.

Mitigating factors, or those which favor reducing the sentence, were cited as follows: lowered culpability due to both parties’ intoxication (though Persky insisted this factor was weighted only slightly); the lack of a prior criminal record; character letters attesting to a period of good behavior prior to and after the crime; Turner’s likely compliance with the sentence; adverse “collateral” effects outside of the conviction such as high media attention; and what Persky identified as remorse from Turner.

He called the last determination “one of the most conflicted and difficult in the case today.” However, he said he ultimately judged Turner’s remorse to be sincere.

“The trial is a search for the truth. It’s an imperfect process,” he said, adding later, “I’m not sure his incomplete acquiescence to the verdict is grounds [to affect his sentence].”

Ultimately, Persky said that he did not believe an extensive jail sentence would best suit Turner’s rehabilitation as a sex offender.

Many student groups have expressed outrage at this decision. A group called Stanford Association of Students for Sexual Assault Prevention (ASAP) created a petition yesterday calling for the University to apologize to the victim, provide supportive services to her and other sexual assault victims, commit educational resources toward sexual assault and administer a new campus climate survey.

Matthew Baiza ’18, co-founder ASAP, said he was moved to action after reading the letter the victim read in court.

“After reading that, we realized the survivor didn’t get justice at all,” he said. “It sends the wrong message to survivors, students and the nation as a whole.”

In a statement released today, spokesperson Lisa Lapin said the University has faced significant misinformation regarding its role in the case.

“[The University] did everything within its power to assure that justice was served in this case, including an immediate police investigation and referral to the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office for a successful prosecution,” the statement reads.

Another petition to recall and remove Persky reached over 140,000 signatures at the time of publication. The petition also accuses Persky of bias in favor of Turner, a “fellow alumni and athlete of Stanford.”

An email also circulated today requesting students to join in a protest during Wacky Walk, the traditional Stanford procession of graduating students which kicks off Commencement.


Contact Victor Xu at vxu ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Victor Xu '17 is an editor and graphics designer. An economics major, he hails from Carmel, IN. He is interested in international development and Kanye West. To contact Victor, email him at vxu ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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