Judge Aaron Persky & You: Who’s The Dumbass?
July 1, 2016 (Fault Lines) – Judge Aaron Persky is Public Internet Enemy Number One. The Guardian reports a stunning display of racism by the judge in not giving a Latino man the same sweet deal ex-Stanford swimmer Brock Turner got for sexual assault. Heads are exploding everywhere as people try to figure out how to be mad about a light sentence and a not so light sentence at the same time.
Here’s a secret. The only thing stunning is how incredibly misleading the Guardian’s story is. There was nothing wrong with either sentence. The problem is you. Whether you are a Facebook commenter or a law professor who probably couldn’t find the inside of a courtroom to save her life, or just an ignoramus, you are the problem. Not Judge Persky.
It’s fascinating how people who know nothing about the law are confident in their ability to comment on every facet of it. You wouldn’t start pushing buttons in the space shuttle without knowing what they do. You probably don’t comment on the wisdom of a complex medical decision. But when it comes to the law, everybody is an expert.
Judge Persky is back in the news over the case of Raul Ramirez.
The embattled judge in the Stanford sexual assault trial is presiding over a similar case in which a Latino man is facing a much harsher sentence than Brock Turner, raising questions about how the former student may have benefited from his privileged background.
Raul Ramirez, a 32-year-old immigrant from El Salvador who admitted to sexually assaulting his female roommate in a case that has similarities with the Stanford case, will be sentenced to three years in state prison under a deal overseen by judge Aaron Persky, according to records obtained by the Guardian.
The first red flag is the word “similar.” That’s very different from “the same.” Words matter. In the law, they really matter. So similar is a suspicious word to use. Because a case that “has similarities” also “has differences.” How does this sound?
Judge Persky is presiding over a different case than Brock Turner’s, with a defendant that is getting a different sentence than Brock Turner. The case has differences from Brock Turner’s case.
Huh? Sounds less sensational when you say it that way. Even though that paragraph has the exact same meaning as the one in the article. But it’s rape, right? So the facts aren’t important.
Instead of sentencing him to the minimum of two years in state prison prescribed by law, Persky made an exception for Turner, determining that his case was “unusual” and that prison would have a “severe impact” on him. After the victim’s impact statement went viral, the judge’s controversial sentencing decision, which will result in Turner spending three months in jail, received international scorn.
Again with the word tricks? Prescribed by law. Well that sounds pretty mandatory. Unless you have a dictionary. Prescribed means authorized, recommended, suggested. It does not mean mandated. And California law did not mandate a two-year sentence. If you had taken the time to read Judge Persky’s sentencing of Turner, you know that probation was also authorized. And Persky went through each legal factor required to impose probation before he did it.
Words. Like the claim the case was “unusual” and would have a “severe impact” on Turner. Those are specific factors in California law that lead to a probationary sentence. The “exception” made by the judge was no exception at all. What the law actually mandates is that the judge go through the sentencing factors and do his job. So the article could have said:
Instead of ignoring the law and giving Turner a sentence that would make the world happy, the judge followed California’s sentencing directives and gave Turner a perfectly legal sentence.
But that version sucks. Because rape. And feelings.
So how exactly is Ramirez getting screwed in this whole deal? Because Judge Persky forced him to plead guilty to a crime and is now refusing to help him out like he helped out fellow Stanford athlete bro Brock Turner, obviously. Just kidding.
Because Ramirez ultimately pleaded guilty to a felony offense that does not have an option for probation or a lighter sentence, Persky was limited in the sentence he could approve for the specific conviction.
Interesting. Ramirez can’t get probation under the law. The law he pled to. Unless Persky is up to something.
But critics say that Persky, a former Stanford athlete himself, bent over backwards to make an exception in the Turner case, and that if he wanted to give Ramirez the same favorable treatment, the judge could have utilized his discretion and recommended a less harsh prosecution.
Busted! I was wrong. Persky could give him probation and he just won’t because Ramirez doesn’t know the secret handshake.
Specifically, Persky could have approved or helped negotiate a bargain in which Ramirez only pleaded guilty to the lesser of two charges he was facing – assault with intent to commit rape. If the more serious charge was dropped – as was the case with Turner, who had two rape charges dropped – Ramirez could have potentially avoided prison.
Words, again. They are pretty much ruining the Guardian’s story. Persky can’t approve something no one put in front of him. And regardless of what role a California judge might have in negotiating a deal, that’s sort of the lawyers’ responsibility. The second sentence is great. Follow the link. Inform yourself. Persky didn’t drop anything in Turner’s case. The prosecutors did. The same ones that are not dropping the most serious charge in Ramirez’s case. Where is the headline about the racist prosecutors?
If you are starting to feel stupid, like maybe you should have thought about this more before you got all up in arms about it, don’t. You aren’t alone.
Michele Landis Dauber, the Stanford professor leading the recall, said the Ramirez case was further evidence that the judge should be removed. “This just shows that our concern about Judge Persky’s ability to be unbiased is justified. We continue to think that he abused his discretion in giving an unduly lenient sentence to Turner,” he said.
Ramirez’s three-year deal “shows that Turner got consideration not available to other defendants who aren’t as privileged”, added Dauber, who is also a family friend of the Stanford victim.
Professor Dauber is just as uninformed as a common uninformed person. She is a law professor, but not really a lawyer. Her curriculum vitae (fancy term for resume) says she never actually practiced law. She just studied it. But apparently not in-depth enough to understand the differences between Turner’s case and Ramirez’s case. Or the differences between the charges of conviction. Or the differences between sentences available for different crimes. Maybe she should run over to Stanford’s English department and see what they know about words. And how they matter.
Judge Persky gave Turner a reasonable and considered sentence. And he hasn’t even sentenced Ramirez yet. But when he does, he will be unable to give him a sentence like Turner’s because both the law and the lawyers prevented him from doing so.
This matters. Your understanding of it matters. What happens in a criminal court is not fodder for your next Facebook rant. It’s not for your stupid petitions. You don’t get to fire a judge because you don’t understand what he is doing.
Details are boring. Having to understand all these words isn’t sexy. Headlines are what we want. Flash. Sensation. But those details are the law. If you don’t get the details, you don’t get the law. And if you don’t get the law, do everyone a favor and shut up about it.