SAN FRANCISCO — A California judge is facing demands for his removal after sentencing a former Stanford University swimmer to six months in jail for sexually assaulting an unconscious young woman behind a campus dumpster.
Some questions and answers about the furor:
Q. What’s the debate?
A. The main question is whether 20-year-old Brock Turner, a blue-eyed white Olympic-caliber swimmer from Dayton, Ohio, with a privileged upbringing, received lenient treatment from a white judge who also played sports at Stanford. Critics argue that a minority or others less fortunate than Turner would have received a stiffer sentence.
The suspicions of special treatment were further fueled when the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Department released a booking photo Monday of a clean-shaven, neatly dressed Turner taken about two weeks after his arrest. On Tuesday, the sheriff’s department released without explanation a second booking photo from the night of Turner’s arrest that that shows him disheveled, shaggy-haired and red-eyed.
Q. What, exactly, did the judge decide?
A. Santa Clara County Judge Aaron Persky gave Turner six months in the county jail and ordered him to register for life as a sex offender, citing his lack of a criminal history, his numerous character references, and what the judge said was the unlikelihood of his committing another such crime.
California jail inmates are general freed after serving half their sentences, meaning Turner could be out in about three months. The judge also placed Turner on three years’ probation.
Q. What happened next?
A. The case triggered outrage and fury online, especially after the release of a letter to the judge from Turner’s father, who said his son had already paid a steep price for “20 minutes of action.”
Recalling an elected official is rare in California. The judge’s opponents would have to collect signatures from about 80,000 registered county voters to put the question of his removal on the ballot.
District Attorney Jeff Rosen said he is disappointed with the sentence but believes the judge should remain in office.
Court spokesman Joe Macaluso said Persky cannot comment on the case because Turner is appealing the jury’s verdict.
Q. What do judges consider in imposing punishment?
A. In addition to weighing whether the defendant is likely to break the law again, a judge typically looks at the person’s age, criminal history, the severity of the crime, the effect on the victim, and any evidence of remorse. Judges sometimes use sentences to deter others from committing similar crimes. They are also required to take into account the punishments meted out in similar cases.
Deputy public defender Gary Goodman said Turner’s sentence was “right in line” with other similar cases.
Q. What did other parties to the case ask for?
A. The district attorney’s office argued for six years in prison. Prosecutor Alaleh Kianerci urged the judge to consider the assault of an intoxicated woman Turner had just met at a party no differently than had Turner attacked a complete stranger on a downtown street.
Turner’s attorney asked for probation, citing his client’s spotless criminal record and the support of his family. Family members, friends and former teachers wrote letters urging leniency.
The county probation department interviewed the victim and Turner, researched sentences in similar cases and recommended Turner get less than a year in jail.
Q. And what did the victim want?
A. The probation officer interviewed the 23-year-old woman on May 3 and quoted her as saying she preferred Turner receive counseling: “I don’t want him to feel like his life is over and I don’t want him to rot away in jail; he doesn’t need to be behind bars.”
But on Thursday, she disputed the officer’s account and complained to the judge that Turner failed to show remorse or take responsibility for the assault.
“I did not say he does not deserve to be behind bars,” she said. “The probation officer’s recommendation of a year or less in county jail is a soft time-out, a mockery of the seriousness of his assaults, an insult to me and all women.”