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Thursday, September 26, 2019

Shane M. Piche: The Bus Driver From Hell And The Judge Who Gave Him A Break

     In 2018, Shane M. Piche drove a school bus for the Watertown City School District in upstate New York. For a year, the 25-year-old driver had his eye on one of his passengers, a 14-year-girl he had been communicating with on social media. In June 2018, Piche invited the girl and her friends to his house outside of Watertown. It was there he provided his bus riders with alcohol, and it was there he and the 14-year-old engaged in sex. In New York, a girl under 17 is incapable, by law, of consenting to sexual intercourse. In the eyes of the law, and anyone with a sense of decency, Shane M. Piche had raped that 14-year-old girl.

     In September 2018, Watertown police officers took Shane Piche into custody and booked him into the Jefferson County Jail on charges of second-degree rape. He also faced the charge of endangering the welfare of a child. Second-degree rape in New York carried a maximum sentence of seven years in prison. The school district also fired him.

     In February 2019, pursuant to a plea agreement between Jefferson County Chief Assistant District Attorney Patricia Dzuiba and defense attorney Eric Swartz, Shane Piche was allowed to plead guilty to third-degree rape, an offense that could result in a sentence of four years in prison. The prosecutor, in justifying her decision to let Piche plea bargain down to the lesser felony, said she wanted to spare the victim the ordeal of testifying before a grand jury and a rape trial.

     Two months after Piche's guilty plea, Judge James P. McClusky sentenced the former school bus driver to ten years probation. In addition, the judge fined him $1,375. As a Level One sex offender, Piche would not be added to the Department of Criminal Justice Service's online sex offender registry. That meant when someone looked him up on the computer, his name wouldn't show up on the site. Had Piche been convicted of second-degree rape as initially charged, his name would have been included on the sex offender registry.

     The 14-year-old rape victim's mother, in a victim impact statement she did not read in court, wrote: "I hope Shane Piche spends time in prison for the harm he caused my child. He took everything from my daughter... and has caused her to struggle with depression and anxiety."

     In responding to public outrage over the light sentence, Judge McClusky said that because Shane Piche had no other known rape victims, he did not believe there was a high risk that this rapist would re-offend. The judge, elected to a 14-year-term on the bench in 2011, insisted that his sentence was well within the guidelines for third-degree rape.

     Amid the public outrage over the outcome of this case, Assistant District Attorney Patricia Dziuba came to judge McClusky's defense with this statement: "The sexual contact occurred between the defendant and the victim was away from school property and a good point in time after they met on the school bus..." (How does any of that mitigate Piche's crime?)

     Not long after Shane Piche's sentencing, offended residents of Jefferson County circulated a petition calling for Judge McClusky's removal from the bench.

     Advocates for harsher sentences in rape cases make the argument that rapists should not be given one "free" rape before they become serial offenders. The Piche case is an example of how practitioners in our criminal justice are more concerned about the welfare of the criminal than the victim. Most people would agree that a 25-year-old school bus driver who takes sexual advantage of a 14-year-old student deserves a stretch in prison. This is a crime that should not go essentially unpunished.

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