This week, the voters of Santa Clara County, California, recalled Judge Aaron Persky by a large margin. Good riddance.
In 2016, Persky presided over the trial of Brock Turner, a Stanford freshman convicted of
rape assault with the intent to commit rape and “penetration of an intoxicated woman”. The case generated a tornado of media coverage, and featured a shattering victim impact statement, an obnoxious dad and sanctimonious victim-blaming. Persky sentenced Turner to six months in jail (he ultimately only served three) and three years’ probation. The sentence was widely condemned as shockingly lenient, considering the circumstances of the crime, and ultimately cost Persky his judgeship.
During the nasty, messy recall campaign Persky’s defenders have been both vocal and eloquent in their opposition. The argument of the anti-recall campaign boils down to the idea that Persky merely followed California’s sentencing guidelines, which enumerate factors relevant to considering leniency.* Another, frankly paradoxical, justification for Persky’s sentence is that the guidelines simultaneously give judges a lot of discretion in sentencing AND somehow tie judges’ hands. If you care about this case, I urge you to read not only the victim’s impact statement, but also Brock Turner’s statement and Judge Persky’s sentencing decision. Having read all those, here is where I believe Persky and his defenders went wrong: