David Becker: Prepare for Outrage…Again
August 24, 2016 (Fault Lines) — You can tell just from the headline that people are going to be pissed about this one:
Accused rapist sentenced to no jail time so he can have a ‘college experience’
The situation on its face seems remarkably similar to the Brock Turner fiasco that dominated the news after he received what might be unfair special treatment from a judge at sentencing following a rape conviction. Turner became the face of white privilege, the sort of bad guy that’ll make us all come together to make sure no rapists escape the system without having the book thrown at them.
The headline is clearly intended to capitalize on that anger. Many people will no doubt read it and immediately see this as a clear sign that the judge in this new case valued a privileged white kid’s college experience more than the suffering of his victims. They’ll see it as anti-woman and anti-victim. The convicted rapist is even a high school athlete. It may not be smack of privilege quite as much as being a champion swimmer at Stanford, but this kid has a villainous nickname Turner didn’t:
David Becker was only sentenced to two years probation for charges of rape in a Massachusetts court.
His nickname in high school was “David the Rapist,” according to one of his victims.
From that, Becker seems like he might be worse than Turner. He even had a nickname, after all. Moreover, it seems like the judge might be even more tone deaf to the ridiculous justification he chose for an unacceptably lenient sentence than Turner’s judge was.
Unfortunately, the facts might disappoint if you’re rational and looking for something to really upset you:
Two seniors at a Massachusetts high school told police they were at a party with David Becker, 18, in April when they went upstairs to a bedroom and talked to Becker until they fell asleep. They said they woke up to Becker sexually assaulting* them, and he apologized to one of the victims in a text message the next day, saying “Sorry, it’s my fault.”
The victim responded with a text telling Becker “don’t even worry about it,” but later told police that she said this because “she did not know what else to say.”
Becker said he had no sexual contact with one of the women, and said he thought his assault of the second woman was fine because she didn’t stop him. There was no evidence of previous sexual assaults.
Instead of being an example clearly worthy of outrage, Becker’s case is likely more of an important lesson about how our criminal justice system works.
What happened probably wasn’t as awful as a lot of cases the judge sees. The case against Becker might not have been that strong, as any competent defense lawyer would have plenty of material for cross-examining the prosecutors’ witnesses. They both went up and slept next to him despite the fact he’s supposedly known as “David the Rapist”? And how did he get the nickname if there was no evidence of previous sexual assaults? One victim told him not to even worry about what happened, and he denied sexual contact with a victim too.
You might hate the idea that these women would be subject to having their claims investigated and being asked questions about what happened, questions that might make them look bad or portray them as liars, but that’s how it works. Becker might have won his case, or the court might not have fully accepted the ugliest possible version of facts. The victims might have been lying, and the best way to show that to a jury would be with a system that allows for a zealous defense. Who knows what really happened. Furthermore, had it gone to trial, it would’ve involved evidence and observations by those involved that could never fully be reported in news stories.
Although it isn’t entirely clear whether he did have some sort of hearing or admitted guilt or not, prosecutors might have been in a situation where they had to choose between a relatively lenient resolution of the case that gave the judge the ability to put Becker under some sort of supervision for a while or risking that he get away with it altogether. Perhaps the court might have found him not guilty if it had to decide. Or perhaps the court just listened to a victim, as another story mentioned one victim didn’t think jail was necessary. We don’t know the facts, and yet the news reports the story in a way clearly intended to paint Becker as another white kid getting a slap on the wrist for rape.
In reality, Becker’s case may be an example of the system working well. The system could use more compassion, not less, and Becker was lucky. Compassion seems to be exactly what he received:
But after a judge in Palmer decided last week to continue the case without a finding for two years, on Monday Becker was sentenced to only two years probation, according to MassLive. Additionally, he’s being allowed to serve the probation in Ohio, where he plans to attend college.
“He can now look forward to a productive life without being burdened with the stigma of having to register as a sex offender,” said attorney Thomas Rooke, who represented Becker in court. “The goal of this sentence was not to impede this individual from graduating high school and to go onto the next step of his life, which is a college experience.”
If Becker was your kid, you might think it was too harsh forcing him to stay away from drugs and alcohol and be evaluated for sex offender treatment if he’s potentially not guilty. You’d probably understand why he might take that offer, though. He avoided a conviction.
On the other hand, if you don’t have any reason to want a good outcome for Becker, you might be pissed he’s not getting more, but you probably still agree it’s better that he do those things than receive no punishment at all. That’s a classic part of how compromise works. I doubt anyone is happy here. The result is always wrong from the most extreme perspectives.
What really matters is that the judge cared about Becker’s future, and he thought about the impact his decisions would have on it. He valued Becker’s life experiences. It’s something judges should do, and the current practice of news outlets apparently scouring the courts for examples of people getting off easy leads down a very dangerous path.
Hate the fact others are denied the chance Becker received. Don’t hate lenience. We should resist the temptation to get up at arms over another white kid being humanized by a judge and instead try to extend that to everyone.
*There is no information available about what, exactly, is meant by “sexually assaulted” in this case.