PALO ALTO -- The judge who ignited outrage for handing a lenient jail sentence to a former Stanford athlete convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman at a party was prepared Thursday to sentence another sex offender in a case critics say showed bias toward the privileged.
But neither the accused nor the protesters who have demanded Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky's removal from the bench appeared at the courthouse Thursday. What transpired was just a mundane proceeding in which the judge revoked the offender's bail and issued a warrant for his arrest.
Persky has come under intense scrutiny since June 2 when he sentenced former student Brock Turner to six months in jail following his conviction on three felony sexual assault charges involving a woman who passed out drunk outside a fraternity party. Turner was arrested after two students bicycling past saw them, noticed the woman wasn't moving and held him for police.
Though many lawyers have defended Persky's decision, the judge took an extended vacation amid the furor over Turner's sentence, and even as he returned to the bench, critics this week delivered more petitions to the Commission on Judicial Performance in San Francisco calling for his removal.
Thursday's case involved a Salvadorean immigrant man, Raul Ramirez, who was set to receive three years in prison under a plea deal with prosecutors.
Critics said the harsher sentence for a Latino immigrant than the jail term given Turner, a white, elite athlete from Persky's alma mater, showed the judge's bias toward the privileged. But though both cases involved sexual assault, the circumstances in Ramirez's case mandate a harsher sentence under California law, something local prosecutors and state lawmakers are working to change.
In a recent editorial in The Guardian, Stanford professor David Palumbo-Liu argued that Ramirez's plea deal, signed in March under Persky's oversight, reinforces the need to recall the judge.
"If Turner and other defendants sharing his racial and class profile are treated more leniently, there is clearly a second 'standard,'" Palumbo-Liu wrote. Others such as Michele Dauber, the Stanford professor spearheading the movement to recall Persky, agreed. Dauber told The Guardian that Ramirez's plea deal "shows that Turner got consideration not available to other defendants who aren't as privileged."
But Gary Goodman, the public defender representing Ramirez, emphatically disagreed on Thursday. He criticized a Guardian article that suggested Persky could have reduced Ramirez's punishment by helping the man plead guilty only to the lesser of his two charges, assault with intent to commit rape.
Ramirez was arrested in November 2014 after his roommate reported he had sexually assaulted her, digitally penetrating her against her will until she started crying. Ramirez confessed to police shortly after the assault.
According to Goodman, Persky could not have dismissed charges against Ramirez because that power lies with the district attorney. Akiva Freidlin, a recent graduate of Stanford Law School who was present at Thursday's court session, agreed, noting that a plea deal is negotiation between the defense and the prosecution: A judge typically intervenes only if he or she has observed, for example, clearly deficient performance on the part of a defense attorney.
Others point out that sentencing law prescribes different punishments for the two men's crimes. In Turner's case, sexual assault of an unconscious person normally carries a minimum of two years in state prison -- but the law allows a judge to reduce that sentence in cases where "justice would be best served by probation." Persky followed a probation officer's recommendation for a lighter jail sentence citing Turner's youth and lack of prior offenses.
In contrast, because Ramirez assaulted a consciously unwilling woman, he was charged with penetration by means of force and faced a mandatory minimum of three years in state prison with no option for probation. As a result, Persky's defenders say, the judge could not have intervened with a lesser sentence in the same way he did for Turner.
In the wake of the Turner case, some are calling to reform the laws that allow such varied punishments for sexual assault based on the consciousness of the victim. Last week, Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen announced a new bill that would mandate three years in prison for sexual assault of an unconscious person.
"Sexually assaulting an unconscious person is as serious as sexually assaulting a conscious person, and there should be no distinction," Rosen said.
But some oppose the bill.
"Mandatory minimums," Goodman said, "are a slippery slope."
Article originally posted by The Mercury News
By Hannah Knowles
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