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Monday, June 13, 2016

The Brock Allen Turner Sexual Assault Case

     During the early morning hours of January 18, 2015, in Palo Alto, California, two Stanford University students came across a man lying on top of a woman near a fraternity house dumpster. The man and the woman had passed out from excessive alcohol consumption.

     The Stanford student on top of the partially clad woman was 20-year-old Brock Allen Turner, an all-American high school swimmer from Dayton, Ohio. He had met the woman found beneath him at a fraternity party that night. (Her identify, as of this writing, has not been made public.)

     Turner had twice the legal limit of alcohol in his system. The 23-year-old woman was three times over the legal limit for intoxication.

     After being examined at a hospital in San Jose, a deputy sheriff told the woman she may have been the victim of a sexual assault.

     Brock Turner, when questioned by the police, admitted that he had sexually fondled the unconscious woman but did not rape her.

     Shortly after being questioned by detectives, a Santa Clara County prosecutor charged Brock Turner with three felonies that included the sexual assault of an unconscious woman and assault with the intent to commit rape. If convicted as charged, Turner faced up to 14 years in prison.

     Following his arrest on the three felony charges, Brock withdrew from the university.

     The Turner sexual assault case went to trial in Palo Alto in March 2016. Prosecutor Alaleh Kianerci, in her opening remarks to the jury, called the defendant the "quintessential face of campus assault." The victim had consumed four shots of whisky before attending the party as well as a quantity of vodka at the fraternity house. As a result of her intoxication, she had been unable to consent to having sex. Lack of consent constituted the legal basis for the prosecution.

     Brock Turner took the stand on his own behalf and testified that the woman had been a willing participant in the sexual activity. Following his testimony, and the closing arguments, the jury found the defendant guilty as charged.

     At the convicted man's sentencing hearing on June 2, 2016, his defense attorney asked Judge Aaron Persky to sentence his client to probation. The defendant's father, Dan Turner, took the stand and said, in reference to his son spending 14 years behind bars: "That is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life."

     The female Santa Clara County probation officer who had conducted Brock Turner's pre-sentencing investigation, took the stand and said: "When compared to other crimes of similar nature, this case may be considered less serious due to Mr. Turner's level of intoxication." The probation officer also pointed out that the former Stanford student did not have a criminal record, was young, and unlikely to re-offend. The county agent concluded her testimony by saying that Mr. Turner had "expressed sincere remorse and empathy for the victim." The probation officer recommended a short jail term followed by a period of probation.

     Prosecutor Kianerci, in her pre-sentencing statement to the court, noted that Mr. Turner experienced a run-in with the police in November 2014. He had, according to police reports, run from an officer after the officer spotted him and other young men drinking on campus. Turner also admitted to possessing a fake driver's license. The prosecutor wondered out loud how the defendant could be so remorseful and empathetic when he had pleaded not guilty to the charges. Prosecutor Kianerci asked Judge Persky to sentence the defendant to six years in prison.

     The most dramatic phase of the pre-sentencing hearing occurred with the victim took the stand and read from her lengthy victim impact statement. She read, in part: "You took away my worth, my privacy, my energy, my time, my safety, my intimacy, my confidence, and my own voice, until today. The damage is done, no one can undo it. And now we both have a choice. We can let this destroy us, I can remain angry and hurt and you can be in denial, or we can face it and head on: I accept the pain, you accept the punishment, and we move on."

     Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky sentenced Brock Turner to six months in the county jail followed by three years' probation. Turner would also have to register as a sex offender. With good behavior, the convicted man was expected to serve three months behind bars.

     Judge Persky's sentence in the Turner sexual assault case created a firestorm of protest from an angry and vocal segment of society that considered the sentence a mere slap on the wrist. Others more sympathetic to the offender believed that making the young man register as a sex offender was, by itself, severe punishment. This group argued that the sexual assault conviction had essentially ruined his life.

    Judge Persky's sentence immediately prompted a movement to recall him from office. Under California law, the California Assembly could impeach Judge Persky after which he could be removed from office on a two-thirds vote in the state senate. Moreover, the State Commission on Judicial Performance could censure or remove the judge from the bench. This action would be subject to a review by the state supreme court.

     Those outraged by the Persky sentence called for Stanford University to apologize for the sexual assault. The activists also demanded that the school bolster its effort to prevent campus rape and other sexual offenses. In response, the university issued a statement that deflected criticism of its handling of the Turner case.

     Following the national uproar over the judge's sentence, a group of prospective Santa Clara County jurors refused to serve in Judge Persky's courtroom. The judge and members of his family also received death threats.

     The national publicity associated with the Turner case prompted several politicians, including Vice President Joe Biden, to express concern over the sentence and the problem of campus rape and other sexual crimes.  

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