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Stanford Rape: Is a Six Month Sentence Justified?

When the Vice President of the United States is upset enough about a criminal case to personally write an open letter to the victim, you know it’s a big deal. Earlier this week, Joe Biden did just that. He composed a powerfully emotional letter to the victim of Brock Turner, the champion swimmer at Stanford University who was convicted of raping another student while she lay unconscious.

“I am filled with furious anger—both that this happened to you and that our culture is still so broken that you were ever put in the position of defending your own worth,” he wrote in a letter published on Buzzfeed. “It must have been wrenching—to relive what he did to you all over again,” Biden added. “But you did it anyway, in the hope that your strength might prevent this crime from happening to someone else. Your bravery is breathtaking.”

Why was Biden so angry, so outraged?

The Path So Far

On January 18, 2015, two graduate students found Turner raping a 23-year-old woman—she was half-naked, unconscious, outside a fraternity house around 1:00 a.m. They chased after him and held him down until police arrived. The victim later told authorities she had decided to accompany her younger sister to a party, but had initially planned to stay home. After the attack, she woke up at a hospital and learned the details of her assault from the press.

Turner, a freshman at the time, was arraigned at the Santa Clara County courthouse in Palo Alto, California, February 2, 2015. According to ABC News, he pleaded not guilty to five felony charges, including attempted rape, rape of an intoxicated person, rape of an unconscious person, sexual penetration of an intoxicated woman, and sexual penetration of an unconscious woman. He alleged that the two were hooking up at the party and he only fondled her. He was released on $150,000 bail.

According to The Stanford Daily, Turner attended his preliminary hearing in October 2015 with his defense attorney, Michael Armstrong. At that hearing he again pleaded not guilty, and two charges were dropped: Rape of an intoxicated person and rape of an unconscious person. It was decided that he would stand trial for the three other felony counts.

Turner was found guilty of raping the victim on March 20, 2016. His sentencing was scheduled for June 2, where he faced a maximum of 14 years behind bars.

Here Comes the Outrage

At the sentencing, Judge Aaron Persky gave Turner just six months of jail and three years of probation for his actions (he must also register as a sex offender). But Turner is only expected to serve three months in jail—due to good behavior. The judge noted that he came to the decision because of Turner’s clean criminal record and that a harsher punishment would have left a “severe impact” on him. “I think he will not be a danger to others,” Judge Persky told CNN.

On June 3, various media outlets obtained the letter the victim read aloud in court to Turner. Powerful and detailed, it described how she felt after the assault, how hard it was to tell her family, and how the experience “has done irreversible damage” to her.

The woman took the time to read portions of Turner’s testimony and responded to each of them, too. “…you said, ‘I want to show people that one night of drinking can ruin a life.’ A life, one life, yours, you forgot about mine. Let me rephrase for you, ‘I want to show people that one night of drinking can ruin two lives.’ You and me. You are the cause, I am the effect. You have dragged me through this hell with you, dipped me back into that night again and again. You knocked down both our towers, I collapsed at the same time you did. If you think I was spared, came out unscathed, that today I ride off into sunset, while you suffer the greatest blow, you are mistaken. Nobody wins. We have all been devastated; we have all been trying to find some meaning in all of this suffering. Your damage was concrete; stripped of titles, degrees, and enrollment. My damage was internal, unseen, I carry it with me. You took away my worth, my privacy, my energy, my time, my safety, my intimacy, my confidence, my own voice, until today,” she wrote. “… to girls everywhere, I am with you. On nights when you feel alone, I am with you. When people doubt you or dismiss you, I am with you. I fought every day for you. So never stop fighting, I believe you.”

Michele Dauber, a Stanford law professor and friend of the victim, then released the letter Turner’s father, Dan, wrote to the judge ahead of his son’s sentencing, according to the Associated Press. The message has since been ridiculed as “tone deaf” by critics. “His life will never be the one that he dreamed about and worked so hard to achieve,” the father wrote. “That is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life.”

Additionally, the father claimed his son’s life was “deeply altered” by the incident. “Brock always enjoyed certain types of food and is a very good cook himself. I was always excited to buy him a big ribeye steak to grill or to get his favorite snack for him,” he added. “Now he barely consumes any food and eats only to exist.”

Does Turner’s father even remotely understand how much the victim of his son’s crime has been a lot more than just “deeply altered?”

The victim herself may have best summed up the outrage of such a shocking verdict: “If a first-time offender from an underprivileged background was accused of three felonies and displayed no accountability for his actions other than drinking, what would his sentence be? The fact that Brock was an athlete at a private university should not be seen as an entitlement to leniency, but as an opportunity to send a message that sexual assault is against the law regardless of social class.”

Recall Petition, Court Trouble Now in Play

A Change.org petition has been launched to recall Judge Persky because of the light sentence he handed down to Turner. “Judge Persky failed to see that the fact that Brock Turner is a white, male star athlete at a prestigious university does not entitle him to leniency,” the page states. “He also failed to send the message that sexual assault is against the law regardless of social class, race, gender, or other factors.” As of Friday, June 10, the petition has already received more than 1,084,527 signatures.

Now potential jurors on upcoming cases are refusing to serve on cases in Persky’s court. “I can’t be here, I’m so upset,” one juror reportedly told Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky on Wednesday. Another simply stated, “I can’t believe what you did.” The East Bay Times said at least 10 prospective jurors declined to serve in an unrelated case. KPIX-TV said the number was double that, and the jurors cited the judge as a hardship. This could spell big trouble for the court system.

Finally, Some Real-world Consequences?

On Friday, Brock Turner received a lifetime ban from USA Swimming, the governing body for professional swimming across the nation. A Facebook group campaign endorsing Turner’s Olympic prospects was also disabled.

A spokesperson for the organization explained the decision in a statement to USA Today Sports: “Brock Turner’s membership with USA Swimming expired at the end of the calendar year 2014…He was not a member at the time of his crime or since then. USA Swimming doesn’t have any jurisdiction over non-members,” he said. “Brock Turner is not a member of USA Swimming and, should he apply, he would not be eligible for membership. …Had he been a member, he would be subject to the USA Swimming Code of Conduct. USA Swimming strictly prohibits and has zero tolerance for sexual misconduct, with firm Code of Conduct policies in place, and severe penalties, including a permanent ban of membership, for those who violate our Code of Conduct.”

The “Real Question” Many are Now Asking

To put it simply: Would Brock Turner have gotten the same sentence from Judge Persky if he were a poor, black, non-athlete?

Brian Banks, a black former football star who spent five years in prison for a rape he didn’t commit, said he was flabbergasted by the six-month sentence handed down to the former college swimmer.

Banks was a 16-year-old high school football star courted by big-time colleges in 2002, when another student at Long Beach Poly High accused him of rape—although his accuser admitted 10 years later she’d made up the sexual assault. By then, Banks had already spent five years in prison and missed out on the college football career he’d hoped would prepare him for the NFL.

The judge in Turner’s case expressed empathy for the former swimmer, who was found guilty by 12 jurors, but Banks said the judge in his case seemed completely indifferent about altering the course of his life.

“It was like he was ordering McDonald’s at a drive-thru window,” Banks told the New York Post‘s Gary Myers. “It was like he was ordering food and took off.”

“I would say it’s a case of privilege,” Banks explained. “It seems like the judge based his decision on lifestyle. He’s lived such a good life and has never experienced anything serious in his life that would prepare him for prison. He was sheltered so much he wouldn’t be able to survive prison. What about the kid who has nothing, he struggles to eat, struggles to get a fair education? What about the kid who has no choice who he is born to and has drug-addicted parents or a non-parent household? Where is the consideration for them when they commit a crime?”

Is it Really Black & White?

Nazgol Ghandnoosh, a research analyst with the Sentencing Project, says that while sentencing is perhaps the least statistically noticeable place to find racial bias in the courts, due to mandatory minimums on certain crimes, “judges are more likely to see a white defendant as a candidate for rehabilitation than they are a defendant of color.”

She also adds that it’s perhaps time to think about our criminal justice system in entirely different terms. “When we think about equalizing outcomes, do we want to get everybody to the point where they’re being sentenced too severely, or do we want to think about the just sentence? Making sure that everyone gets the worst outcome is not going to necessarily address the problems we have with over-incarceration.”

Prachi Gupta, a writer for Cosmopolitan, recently wrote, “No one has a criminal record until they commit a crime, but that doesn’t mean the crime isn’t a crime. The rush to humanize Turner and grant him a lenient sentence is an example of a system that elevates the voices and experiences of white men, and dismisses violence against women. As a young, successful white male athlete, Turner benefits from a level of compassion and empathy rarely expressed for any other group of people in America, a benefit of the doubt that people of color and women rarely get. In fact, they are often subject to higher levels of scrutiny simply by virtue of not being white or male.”

A study conducted for the Bureau of Justice Statistics, based on data from 2005—after a Supreme Court decision gave judges more flexibility in sentencing—through 2012, shows that black defendants are still getting longer sentences than white ones for the same crimes. But it’s certainly not the first study to find that even when the criminal justice system as a whole is getting more lenient, that leniency varies depending on the race of the defendant. And it’s a big challenge for criminal justice reformers—who end up caught in a terrible double bind.

To actually calculate whether judges are using their discretion to favor white defendants more than black ones requires some serious statistical analysis. But other researchers who’ve done that analysis, just like the authors of the new study, have found that racial disparities have persisted.

Obviously, the issues surrounding race, privilege, education, and criminal history—when it comes to the court and sentencing system—won’t be easily solved anytime soon. The case of Brock Turner should serve as a wake-up call to America that such factors, whether we want to admit it or not, do in fact play a big role in a judge’s sentencing decisions.

For more information or to schedule a consultation, please contact GreeneWilson Attorneys at Law by calling (252) 634-9400 or visiting www.greenewilson.com.

(Sources: CNN International; Buzzfeed; Us Magazine; ABC News; The Stanford Daily; CNN; The Atlantic; The East Bay Times, Huffington Post; Second Nexus; Raw Story; Broadly; Cosmopolitan; Sentencing Project; and New York Post.)

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Judge Kenneth F. Crow joins GreeneWilson, P.A.

Kenneth F.  Crow (“Ken”) was born in Raleigh, North Carolina. He is a graduate of Apex High School, UNC-Chapel Hill and Campbell University Law School. Ken served the State of North Carolina for 25 years before his recent retirement. After law school, Ken worked over 3 years as an Assistant District Attorney prosecuting felonies and misdemeanors for 8 eastern North Carolina counties including Craven, Pamlico, Jones and Carteret. Thereafter, Ken practiced law for approximately one year before becoming a District Court Judge in 1994. At age 32, Ken was one of the youngest judges in the State. After serving 8 years as a District Court Judge, Ken was elected Superior Court Judge in 2002 and served in that capacity for over 13 years until his retirement in March 2016.

Ken is a 1996 graduate of the National Judicial College in Reno, Nevada. In 1999, the State of North Carolina designated Ken as a Certified Juvenile Law Judge. Ken served as the 3-B Judicial District Drug Court Judge for over 3 years and received a diploma from the Nation Drug Court Institute of Annapolis, Maryland in 2008. Ken is a graduate of the Northwestern University Law and Economics Program and currently sits on the Board of Advisors for the Law and Economics Center at George Mason University. Ken is currently a member of the Craven Community College Board of Trustees and is a 25-year member and past president of the New Bern Breakfast Rotary Club.

As a veteran of over 500 jury trials, Ken focuses his practice on felony criminal defense, felony probation cases, post-conviction motions and personal injury litigation.

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Why All Couples Should Consider a Prenup

Prenuptial agreements, or prenups, are often associated with movie stars, professional athletes, and financial tycoons and their headline-generating divorces. Prenups are very common among this group and for good reason: When these couples divorce, the settlements can be astronomical.

Most of us enter a marriage under far different financial situations than actors or athletes, but a prenup can still be useful for us “ordinary” folks.

What is a Prenup?

By definition, a prenup, is a contract marrying parties enter into before they make their nuptials legitimate. In the simplest terms, it protects what’s yours should the marriage come to an end. From making the division of assets concrete, to assuring spousal support, to specific terms regarding the possible forfeit of assets, a prenup legally binds the two parties to the decisions they made when they were of sound mind, in love, and long before divorce even seemed like a possibility.

In a survey of 1,600 members of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, a professional group based in Chicago, published in October 2013, 63% of the respondents reported an increase in prenups over the previous three years.

Why Prenups Matter

According to author Terry Savage, getting a prenuptial agreement isn’t simply about planning for the worst-case scenario. She says, “We tend to think of prenups as dividing assets, with one wealthier partner wanting ‘protection.’” But, contrary to popular belief, she explains, a couple’s need for a prenup isn’t based solely on their income or assets. The real benefit applies to any relationship: Upfront, honest communication.

“These days, with even lower income people coming into relationships with debt from college, credit cards, or obligations for child support, it might be wise to segregate these debt obligations and discuss whose income will be used to pay them, and whether that impacts the amount each will contribute to ongoing household expenses,” Savage explains.

The conversation about whether or not to have a prenup can be a good entry into a conversation about finances that every couple should have before tying the knot: Who will pay for what? Who will stay home with children? What if someone wants to go back to school? How much of our paychecks will we save for retirement? But too often, as Family and Marriage Therapist Lisa Bahar explains to Daily Finance, those conversations stop before they really get started.

“Money is emotional,” she says. How we make it, how much we have, whether we’re spenders or savers, how much debt we’ve taken on—all of these subjects can be sensitive, which can easily lead people to avoid talking about them at all. So bringing in other people to help facilitate the conversation, whether clergy or financial professionals, can be helpful, she says.

“Marriage is a contract, like a business arrangement,” Bahar says. “There’s a reason paperwork is involved with marriage. It’s a contract between two people, and that includes finances. The irony of it is how people hold that emotionally.”

Bahar says the sooner a prenup is discussed, the better. In other words: Don’t wait until the day before the wedding.

“For some people, [being asked] for a prenup is a sign your partner doesn’t trust you. For others, it gives added security. If you’re someone who absolutely won’t get married without one, it’s best to have that conversation up front,” she says.

When Prenups are a Good Idea

CPA Vivian Groman tells the Los Angeles Times, “I see a prenuptial as the start of an ongoing conversation about money, finances, and, ultimately, the values that you hold that get expressed financially. It’s not that everybody needs a formal legal agreement. But everyone needs to have the conversation.”

Groman considers prenups pivotal in six situations:
Disparate assets: If one party is coming into the marriage with a home and an investment account, the agreement can spell out whether those assets will be kept separate or how they’d be taken into account in the event of a split.

Disparate debts: Young couples may have fewer assets to split than they have debts. If one party has significant obligations, the deal can keep the debts separate too. Beware, however, if one partner owes money to the federal government in the form of student loans or back taxes. In some cases, marriage can make the new partner liable for those debts regardless of a prenuptial agreement, a liability that can continue after a divorce. If one person has such debts, the rules should be understood before marriage.

Vastly disparate income: Earning more or less than your spouse generally isn’t an issue while you’re married, because there’s a presumption that both people share and share alike. But in the event of a split, a prenuptial agreement can set a limit—either a minimum or a maximum—on the amount the higher-wage earner pays or the lower-wage earner would get. One caveat is that state court judges have been known to toss out prenuptial agreements that appear patently unfair to the lower-wage earner, particularly in long-term marriages, according to PrenuptialAgreements.org. You can write an agreement that says “no alimony under any circumstances,” but enforcing it could be another issue.

Second marriages: Prenups can also dictate who pays which expenses for children from previous marriages. They also can outline how both partners’ assets will be split at death (as well as in a divorce). Two things to consider, though: A prenup does not replace an estate plan. A prenuptial agreement holds no sway if your children are applying for college financial aid. Federal financial aid formulas expect married couples to be jointly responsible for their children’s school expenses. If a couple divorces and the custodial parent remarries, the new spouse’s income will be included in financial aid calculations—even if that new spouse won’t help with the college bills.

Business ownership: If one or both parties have a small business, a prenuptial agreement is warranted. It protects the business’ assets and protects the non-owner spouse from potential business liabilities, Groman says.

Inheritances: An inheritance isn’t considered community property, even in community-property states. If you know you’re going to come into some money or other inheritance assets, be prepared for questions and complications. The heir must prevent assets from being commingled with the marital assets to keep his or her ownership intact. It’s relatively easy to do this if you inherit cash, stocks, or bonds. But the situation quickly becomes complicated if you inherit an interest in a home in which you subsequently live. A prenuptial agreement can spell out how you maintain your separate interest in that home, even if you both contribute to the mortgage.

If you don’t fall into any of these categories Groman suggests that couples swap financial information, spelling out their assets and debts, and talk through how they want to handle shared financial responsibilities. She says the conversation should include a discussion of long-term goals and how each person would like to reach them. If you’re planning to have children and one spouse may stop working to be the stay-at-home parent, the talk should outline how the non-working spouse won’t lose out on spending, savings, and a retirement plan.

Remember, a marriage is the biggest partnership of your life. Failing to have a conversation about money when you enter this partnership can lead to serious problems later.

For more information or to schedule a consultation, please contact GreeneWilson Attorneys at Law by calling (252) 634-9400 or visiting www.greenewilson.com.

(Sources: Amanda Chatel for Forbes Magazine; Kelley Holland for CNBC; Los Angeles Times; Business Insider; Molly McCluskey for Daily Finance; The Wall Street Journal.)

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