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April 30th, 2017

Insight

Stanford Offender Got a Life Sentence

Debra J. Saunders

By Debra J. Saunders

Published June 16, 2016

The victim fought back with words of rage. "I thought there's no way this is going to trial; there were witnesses, there was dirt in my body, he ran but was caught," she wrote in a 12-page statement at the sentencing of Brock Turner, the former Stanford student convicted of sexually assaulting her. "He's going to settle, formally apologize, and we will both move on. Instead, I was told he hired a powerful attorney, expert witnesses, private investigators who were going to try and find details about my personal life to use against me."

The case went to trial and a jury found Turner, a former swimming-scholarship student, guilty of three counts of sexual assault. He had told authorities the woman consented to being digitally penetrated near a trash bin, even though she had consumed too much alcohol to be capable of giving consent. Turner ran away when two Swedish graduate students intervened -- which shows consciousness of guilt. His quickness to blame alcohol for his actions -- and to misrepresent himself as new to the party culture -- sealed his reputation as an entitled white kid who refused to own his crimes.

Prosecutors sought a six-year sentence. Judge Aaron Persky instead issued terms closer to a probation officer's recommendation. In light of Turner's lack of prior criminal convictions and low to moderate risk of reoffending, a probation report recommended a sentence of a year or less in jail, followed by three years probation. Six months in jail -- three months, really -- followed by three years of probation is too short a sentence for what Turner did to a 22-year-old woman who could not fight back. Outrage ensued.

"Emily Doe's" statement laid bare Turner's predatory behavior and vile excuses. She's right. In a better world, Turner, 20, would have owned his behavior, thrown himself at the mercy of the court and spared his victim from being violated during an ugly trial. Instead he fought and won a light sentence.

But did he get off lightly? His jail time is too short, but his harshest punishment is a lifetime on the sex offender registry. Every year for the rest of his life, he'll have to go to a police department and register. His earning power is diminished because he won't be able to get most professional licenses. He'll be on the same database as pedophiles. Defense attorney Paula Canny thinks some judges reduce incarceration time because they know the registry is for life. California's registry has so many names -- close to 100,000 -- that the Sex Offender Management Board has asked Sacramento to limit lifetime registration to kidnappers and violent sexual predators, and allow less serious offenders to be removed after 10 or 20 years.

"It puts you in a situation that you really have no choice but to go to trial," San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi told me.

If Sacramento allowed plea deals that would mean shorter time on the registry for first-time offenders, more guys like Turner might plead guilty -- and spare their victims from having to testify in court. A smarter registry could set up the scenario Emily Doe suggested.

I wonder if Turner's attorney would have cut a deal if not for the lifetime sex registry. Santa Clara County Chief Assistant District Attorney Jay Boyarsky says no. This case never was going to settle, he said; his office would not have agreed to a guilty plea for a lesser charge that would detour the registry. Besides, he added, defense attorneys tend to fight deals that land their clients behind bars. I asked Boyarsky if he thinks Turner should be on a registry for life. "I do," Boyarsky answered, not to shame the offender, but to protect the public.

But I have to ask, did the sex offender registry protect Emily Doe?

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