Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Who wants an independent judiciary anyway?

Today is judgment day for Judge Aaron Persky who gained renown when he sentenced Stanford swimmer Brock Turner to six months in jail and probation for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman.

The recall effort is led by Stanford law professor Michele Dauber, who is a sociologist, not a lawyer (though she does have a law degree). Ms. Dauber is also a friend of the victim's family.

She was up in arms because she thought the sentence meted out to Mr. Turner wasn't severe enough. She thought it was a slap in the face of the victim in this matter and to other victims of sexual assault.

Maybe the sentence was too lenient. I'm sure that had the case landed on the desk of another judge the sentence may have been different. But Judge Persky made the decision that he thought was correct given the offense, the victim and the defendant.
U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a liberal Democrat from San Jose, and the bar associations of Santa Clara and San Mateo counties oppose the recall.
In favor are the National Organization for Women and other women’s groups, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and several members of Congress and the state Legislature.

Had Mr. Turner not been a star swimmer at Stanford, maybe he would have been sent to prison and not placed on probation. We'll never know. But it certainly isn't uncommon for a judge to take into consideration the history of the defendant and his future prospects when handing down a sentence.

Maybe he got that sentence because he came from a wealthy family. Maybe that's what he got because his family was able to retain a good lawyer. Maybe he received probation because of the work his lawyer did for him on the case.

But whatever the reason for the sentence, that's what Judge Persky thought was appropriate. And let's face it, different sentences for different folks convicted of the same crime isn't unusual. And it's not necessarily undesirable. Do we really want state versions of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines? I don't think so.

The guidelines were implemented because of disparate sentencing across federal districts. This was, of course, back in the day when judges were allowed to use their discretion in crafting a sentence. A bunch of people complained and now it's like those fucking matrices we learned (and just as quickly forgot) back in Algebra II.

Ms. Dauber's crusade is one reason we don't allow the victims of a crime to determine the punishment. We leave that job to prosecutors and judges who, presumably, will use their discretion to make an offer or order a sentence.
Dauber has singled out a handful of cases Persky handled that she said reflected bias in favor of people of privilege.
The anti-recall campaign disputed her version of the cases, noting that one of the defendants was a plumber and that another judge, not Persky, sentenced one of the other defendants.
“To the extent you can find a pattern, for young offenders with no prior record, he did often give them a sentence which gave them a chance … and tried to keep them in school or in a job,” said Santa Clara University law professor Ellen Kreitzberg, one of the anti-recall leaders. “He did it regardless of race or ethnicity.”

We have an incarceration problem in this country. We have far too many people behind bars who have no reason to be there. Whenever a particularly foul or gruesome crime is committed (especially against a child) we name a law after the victim that either stiffens the penalty for the crime, creates a new crime or forbids probation or parole. And, as politicians are more than willing to lick their finger and stick it up to see which way the wind is blowing, laws are passed without anyone thinking about the consequences. Years down the road someone else will have to deal with the mess.

Now, if Ms. Dauber's crusade were to eliminate some of the most disparate sentences and to ensure that poor defendants have as much of a chance to get probation as wealthy defendants, I'd say we should listen to what she has to say. But if her whole goal is to lock up offenders - regardless of the circumstances - and fill the jails then I don't care what she has to say.

The danger in California is that we are going to turn control of the criminal (in)justice system over to the mob. That's what happened up until the 1960's. It was called lynching.

Ms. Dauber's criticism disregards the fact that Mr. Turner will have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life - long after he has completed his sentence. He will forever have issues with where he can live. He will be under supervision for years - and one screw up could land him in prison. At least with probation he will be receiving counseling and he will be monitored.

Should the recall effort prevail today, judges will no longer have the discretion to do what they think is best on the bench. They will be second guessed by everyone. People like Ms. Dauber will highlight one decision made from the bench and ignore the other hundreds or thousands of decisions that judge has made. And instead of crafting a sentence that is more likely to address the needs of those in front of the bench, judges will be more likely to go for one-size-fits-all solutions.

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