After serving just three months of a six-month sentence.
By Madeleine Thomas
Brock Turner during his initial booking. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
In anticipation of Brock Turner’s release from jail this Friday, protests are already planned in front of the Santa Clara County Main Jail, where Turner served just three months for three felony counts of sexual assault. He will be released tomorrow — after serving about half of his sentence — for good behavior.
Turner, 21, a former Stanford University swimmer, was arrested last January after two graduate students saw him thrusting on top of an unconscious, partially naked woman. At the time of the assault, the victim was lying on the ground behind a dumpster near a fraternity house on campus. Turner was subsequently convicted in March of three felony counts: assault with intent to commit rape of an intoxicated person, sexually penetrating an intoxicated person with a foreign object, and sexually penetrating an unconscious person with a foreign object.
Typically, a conviction like Turner’s requires by law a minimum state prison sentence of two years. During his trial, prosecutors recommended Turner serve six years. Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky’s decision to reduce Turner’s sentence to just six months in jail — Persky deemed that, “Obviously, a prison sentence would have a severe impact on him” — sparked a furor of backlash.
“I was not only told that I was assaulted, I was told that because I couldn’t remember, I technically could not prove it was unwanted,” the Stanford victim later read aloud from a letter as she addressed to Turner during his sentencing hearing. “And that distorted me, damaged me, almost broke me. It is the saddest type of confusion to be told I was assaulted and nearly raped, blatantly out in the open, but we don’t know if it counts as assault yet. I had to fight for an entire year to make it clear that there was something wrong with this situation.”
Also prompting outrage for the court’s treatment of sexual assault: the inconsistency in Persky’s sentencing.Soon after Turner’s sentencing, Persky approved a considerably more severe sentence for a 32-year-old Latino man facing similar charges, Kate Wheelingwrote for Pacific Standard. Racial biases are still pervasive throughout the criminal justice system, and minorities regularly face higher conviction rates and longer sentences than their white counterparts, Wheeling wrote. Persky has since announced that, at least temporarily, he will no longer be hearing criminal cases.
“While we can’t go back and change what happened, we can make sure it never happens again.”
Some California lawmakers have since used Turner’s excessively lenient sentencing as an impetus for legislative change. Earlier this week, a bill passed unanimously in the State Assembly that would ensure anyone convicted of sexual assault in California could not be sentenced to probation.
Currently, California law only requires a mandatory prison sentence if a defendant uses force during a sexual assault involving penetration. Under this bill (which must still be signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown), anyone convicted of assaulting an unconscious person or someone who is too intoxicated to give proper consent would face mandatory prison time as well.
“Rape is rape, and rapists like Brock Turner shouldn’t be let off with a slap on the wrist,” Assemblyman Evan Low (D-Campbell), the bill’s co-author, said. “Judge Persky’s ruling was unjustifiable and morally wrong, however, under current state law it was within his discretion. Current law actually incentivizes rapists to get their victims intoxicated before assaulting them. While we can’t go back and change what happened, we can make sure it never happens again.”
Turner’s sentence also includes a mandatory, lifetime sex offender registration and three years of probation. Protestors are also already gathering in front of the Ohio home of Turner’s parents should he return there after his release from jail, according to local news reports.
“To me, his return is no different than any other sex offender who comes in here and registers with us. We’re going to treat him the same. We keep an eye on the sex offenders and know where they’re at,” Sheriff Gene Fischer, with the Greene County Sheriff’s Department told WDTN. “If they violate the probation or they violate any terms of checking in as a sex offender, we will pursue charges through the prosecutor’s office.”