PALO ALTO — A Santa Clara County judge Tuesday ordered a College of San Mateo running back to spend about eight weekends in jail for failing to satisfy the terms of a domestic violence plea bargain in a case that drew questions about favorable treatment for athletes charged with abusing women.
Superior Court Judge Diane Northway ruled that College of San Mateo Bulldogs running back Keenan Smith must serve the remaining 47 days of his sentence in a jail cell on weekends rather than on a weekend work crew starting Dec. 6 after the semester ends. With credits for compliance and good behavior, he would complete the sentence in about eight weekends.
Northway also ordered him to resume a 52-week domestic violence class Feb. 28.
“This will be my priority,” Smith told the court. “I will make it my priority.”
The Dec. 6 start date means Smith will be able to finish out the regular football season, which ends Nov. 12. But the judge did not appear to take that into account, saying only that she wanted Smith to be able to finish the semester and keep his job. Smith works the graveyard shift Monday through Thursday and takes classes at the community college from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
After attacking his girlfriend last year and punching a bystander who tried to protect her, Smith landed a plea deal that allowed him to continue his budding football career. His charges were reduced to misdemeanors and the star running back only had to serve about half of his 60-day sentence behind bars — provided he completed a 52-week domestic violence program and put in about 28 days on the jail’s weekend work crew.
But in the past six months, the 20-year-old only recently began attending the domestic violence course consistently, and he performed just three days of weekend work before being booted out of the program earlier this month for failing to show up. Yet he’s managed to make football practice and play in nearly every Bulldogs game.
Stanford law professor Michele Dauber has highlighted Smith’s case and lack of progress to support her effort to recall Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky — who had originally sentenced Smith based on a plea deal between the prosecution and the defense. Dauber contends Persky shows a pattern of deference toward collegiate athletes and indifference to female victims of abuse.
Persky set off an international furor this summer after allowing former Stanford athlete Brock Turner to serve only three months in jail for sexually assaulting an intoxicated, unconscious woman outside a campus fraternity party. Dauber has also criticized Persky for agreeing to delay sentencing for another young athlete convicted of physically assaulting his girlfriend, so he could play football at the University of Hawaii.
Dauber said Tuesday in a telephone interview that the stiffer penalty imposed by Northway shows that, “Today’s hearing was just more evidence that Judge Persky sent the message that playing football was more important than violence against women.’’
Alerted by Dauber, the district attorney’s office took the unusual step of hauling Smith back to court for the probation violation inquiry Tuesday. But Northway rejected prosecutor Alaleh Kiancerci’s request that Smith be locked up immediately.
Smith’s lawyer, Alternate Public Defender Barbara Muller, and the county’s chief probation officer dispute that the justice system let Smith off the hook until someone blew the whistle. In a state grappling with prison overcrowding, local authorities, they say, face new pressures to rehabilitate lower-level offenders outside of jail. Muller said playing football is Smith’s ticket to a scholarship to a four-year college, not just fun and games.
Muller promised the judge that Smith’s family, who attended the hearing, would make sure he complied with the new conditions she set.
Some defense lawyers, including Palo Alto-based deputy public defender Gary Goodman, accused prosecutors of succumbing to pressure from Dauber when they demanded a hearing in a misdemeanor case they would typically let probation handle.
Assistant District Attorney Brian Welch disagreed. “The court agreed that enough was enough, and the defendant had abused the benefits of the long leash. We were alerted to this case by Michelle Dauber, but our own research informed our decision to request the hearing.”
Original article posted by The Mercury News
By Tracey Kaplan
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