Why Public Defenders Are Supporting The Judge In The Stanford Rape Case

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A group of public defenders have written an open letter in support of Judge Aaron Persky, who has been the subject of backlash for the light sentence handed down to the former Stanford University swimmer convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman behind a dumpster in 2015.

The public letter, which has received more than 300 signatures — mostly from public defenders and defense attorneys — denounces calls for Persky’s resignation, according to The Guardian.

“If judges had to fear direct, personal repercussions as a result of their decisions in individual cases, the rule of law would suffer,” the letter reads.

“The efforts to remove Judge Persky may have unintended, unfortunate consequences,” the letter continues. “Rather than using a robotic, one-size-fits-all punishment scheme, we want judges, like Judge Persky, to engage in thoughtful, case-by-case, individualized determinations of the appropriate sentence for a particular crime and particular offender. We want the humanity of all people, regardless of background, to be recognized in sentencing.”

Persky oversaw the trial of former Stanford student and 2016 Olympic hopeful Brock Turner, who was convicted on three felony counts of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman in January 2015. Turner was sentenced to six months in jail out of a possible 14 years, prompting outcry by many who saw the sentence as outrageously lenient, including the woman herself, who wrote a powerful open letter about her experience. A petition calling for Persky’s resignation has over a quarter of a million signatures.

The author of the letter, Sajid A. Khan, outlined what was behind it in a detailed blog post which detailed the role of discretionary sentencing in mass incarceration. He said that he was concerned that the call for Persky’s resignation would deter other judges from being merciful for fear of the repercussions, prompting them to issue harsh sentences without considering other factors.

He discussed the role of the probation department’s recommendation in the sentencing, as well as the consideration of Turner’s age and lack of criminal history. “Judge Persky fairly applied those factors and rendered a reasonable, thoughtful sentence within the confines of the law. He should be applauded for exercising discretion and mercy, not demonized,” he said.

“I fear that this shift will disproportionately impact the underprivileged and minorities in our communities and perpetuate mass incarceration,” he wrote.

In an interview with The Huffington Post Khan said that he understood why people were mad about the sentence, but believed that an effort to recall the judge was the wrong course of action. “If there is a concern about his sentence, that should be taken up with the state legislature, rather than by seeking to remove the judge for doing his job, exercising discretion, and showing compassion,” he said.

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