It was an obvious sexual assault nerve in a tooth in the mouth of America that California Judge Aaron Persky plucked when he handed down a lenient sentence to Brock Turner for six counts of aggravated sexual assault against an unconscious woman. Turner, an athlete at Stanford University received only a six-month sentence-the prosecutor’s wanted six years-in a move that has found many across a broad spectrum criticizing the judge and in what is an unprecedented move, calling for his recall.
Recently, the same prosecutors have recused Persky, in a move known as ‘papering’ a judge, from hearing a case involving a male nurse accused of sexually assaulting an anesthetized female patient. Prosecutors state they are doing so because they’ve lost faith in Persky’s ability to adjudicate fairly and take the victim’s ordeal into account. They’ve also said they plan on doing so again in the future.
Yet, there’s another nerve that Persky plucked and I don’t think he even realizes that he’s done so. It’s not the raw, exposed nerve of sex abuse and power that many have reacted to but it is nevertheless one that crosses a broad spectrum and affects a wide range of people.
In his reasoning for the ultra-lenient sentence, Judge Persky stated that more jail time would have “a severe impact” on Turner. And this, I say, is truly news; that a presiding judge not only states that prison has a “severe impact” on a person, he then sentences them leniently, despite the evidence. It’s the ultimate in judicial discretion-an attempt to give a person a chance to right themselves-and something that’s woefully needed in the prison community. It’s unfortunate that in what may be an inaugural event, the decision was handed down to one who doesn’t deserve it.
Such consideration would be put to far better use in the country’s Drug Courts. As stated by the Drug Policy Alliance, although rates of drug use are comparable across racial and ethnic lines, Blacks and Latinos are far more likely to be criminalized for drug law violations than whites. Moreover, despite the fact that African-Americans make up 13 percent of the population with no indication of overt drug use above their white counterparts, they nevertheless comprise 31 percent of the prison population for drug violations and 40 percent of that segment land in state of federal prison; not jail.
Personally, I would have liked to have seen Judge Persky try the case of the accused nurse, Cecil Webb, who’s pleaded not guilty. I could be very wrong in my assumptions but his name sounds black and If he in fact is, it would’ve been interesting to see if Persky’s anxiety over the impact of jail time carried over to a non-white defendant, one who possibly didn’t attend a prestigious university such as Stanford.
Either way, I look forward to the time when such discretion can be routinely handed down fairly to those who deserve it, while at the same time considering the circumstances of both defendant and victim, if one exists in the case. We are definitely not there yet but it is nice to dream.