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August 25, 2016

Massachusetts judge's probation sentence for sexual assault gives east coast its own Brock Turner

This new New York Times article, headlined "Judge’s Sentencing in Massachusetts Sexual Assault Case Reignites Debate on Privilege," reports on the latest seemingly too-lenient sentence for sexual assault stirring up controversy in the wake of a summer spent discussing the now-infamous Brock Turner case out of California.  Here are the details:

The two women were asleep on a bed after drinking at a party when they were sexually assaulted.  A high school athlete pleaded guilty to indecent assault and battery on a person over 14 in the case, according to court documents. But when a Massachusetts judge sentenced the defendant, David Becker, to two years’ probation last week, he reignited a debate on white privilege, leniency and judicial discretion.

The case is being compared to a rape trial in which a champion student swimmer from Stanford University, Brock Turner, received six months in jail for raping an unconscious woman behind a Dumpster at a party on campus.  The judge in that case, Aaron Persky of the Santa Clara County Superior Court, was the subject of a recall effort in June.

Prosecutors in the Massachusetts case recommended a two-year sentence for Mr. Becker, 18, a former student at East Longmeadow High School, a spokesman for the Hampden County district attorney’s office, James Leydon, said in an email on Wednesday.  Mr. Becker also would have had to register as a sexual offender.

But on Aug. 15, Judge Thomas Estes of Palmer District Court not only ignored the prosecutors’ recommendation, but he also allowed Mr. Becker to serve his probation in Ohio, where the defendant planned to attend college, court documents showed. Judge Estes said Mr. Becker must abstain from drugs and alcohol, submit to an evaluation for sex offender treatment and stay away from the victims, both of whom were 18, they showed.

According to The Republican, Mr. Becker’s lawyer, Thomas Rooke, said, “The goal of this sentence was not to impede this individual from graduating high school and to go onto the next step of his life, which is a college experience.”

“He can now look forward to a productive life without being burdened with the stigma of having to register as a sex offender,” Mr. Rooke said, according to The Republican. Mr. Rooke could not be reached by telephone on Wednesday.

After Mr. Becker’s sentence was made public, a petition went up online seeking names to present to state lawmakers to remove the judge. It had garnered more than 10,000 signatures by Wednesday afternoon. “This is yet another instance of a white athlete receiving a slap on the wrist for a violent sexual crime, following on the heels of the Brock Turner case in California,” the petition said.

Mr. Becker was originally charged with two counts of rape and one count of indecent assault, according to the documents.  According to police reports, Mr. Becker told investigators that when one of the women “didn’t protest,” he assumed it was “O.K.,” but he denied having any physical contact with the other woman, according to the documents.

In a text message to one of the victims the next day, Mr. Becker apologized for the assault, the court documents said. The victim responded with a text telling him, “Don’t even worry about it,” but later told the police that she had said that because “she did not know what else to say,” according to a police report presented in court. The police declined to comment on Wednesday.

The sexual assault case is one of several recent episodes that activists say show a troubling trend toward lenient punishment for young white perpetrators.  In one case in Colorado, a former University of Colorado student, Austin Wilkerson, 22, who was convicted of raping a female student in 2014, was sentenced to two years on work or school release and 20 years to life on probation.  He also must register as a sex offender.  Prosecutors said the victim had consumed too much alcohol at a party, The Daily Camera reported. “No prison time for sexual assault sends a terrible message,” the Colorado attorney general, Cynthia Coffman, said on Twitter after the decision....

Colby Bruno, a senior legal counsel with the Victim Rights Law Center in Massachusetts, said that in the 12 years she had been with the center, she has seen her share of cases involving elements of racial privilege.  Even more so, she has observed a bias in favor of male suspects in court cases involving violence against women, she said in a telephone interview, adding, “This is basically business as usual for the courts.”

“There is an element in each of the cases of entitlement on the part of the perpetrators. It is something I have seen across the board in the cases that I have represented,” she said.  “Giving perpetrators a second chance is not a good idea,” Ms. Bruno added. “This is a felony, not a mistake, and it has to be treated like that.”

August 25, 2016 at 09:45 AM | Permalink


The "white privilege" thing here is pernicious as hell. The criminal justice system is full of anecdotes, and it's easy to cherry pick. I'd guess that the utterly harsh statutory rape sentences are more prevalent in jurisdictions that don't have a lot of serious crime, and those are going to fall disproportionately on middle or upper class kids.

What we should be focused on--calibrating sentences/prosecution decisions to the crime and individual offender.

And if we're going to start looking at lenience, let's also look at places like Chicago, DC or NYC. Or we can look at the black running back at LSU who got numerous slaps on the wrist . . . .

Posted by: federalist | Aug 25, 2016 10:09:41 AM

This is just wrong in so many ways. Young white kid gets away with rapes and doesn't get any jail or prison time, no time on the registry and gets the slate wiped clean if he stays out of trouble?
How does the judge think that's going to sit with all those young white men doing time in jail or prison for "non-contact sex offenses'?
They'd like to attend college and have their slate wiped clean too!

Posted by: kat | Aug 25, 2016 1:54:35 PM

kat, perhaps you'd like to address the LSU football player who, as a repeat offender, got away with slaps on the wrist

It's easy to pick anecdotes, but check out the lenient sentence after sentence handed down in DC for crimes and criminals far worse than Becker.

Posted by: federalist | Aug 25, 2016 3:59:37 PM

"Mr. Becker was originally charged with two counts of rape and one count of indecent assault, according to the documents. According to police reports, Mr. Becker told investigators that when one of the women “didn’t protest,” he assumed it was “O.K.,” but he denied having any physical contact with the other woman, according to the documents."

So, what appears to be an incident of people being drunk coupled with a "he said, she know says" unprovable nonsense, we have these utterly blood thirsty sex law hawks screaming that the guy should spend years in prison and be marked for the rest of his life.

This madness must stop. Start first with the journalists who keep up with the biased journalism. Then move up to the prosecutors demanding blood.

An incident like this in an earlier era would have been written off by both parties as a mistaken thing. An experience to learn from. Now it is criminalized. While cases of real brutal rape are not fully prosecuted and investigated, because the courts are becoming clogged with this other kind of "rape."

I don't feel safer. Either should anyone while this idiocy continues.

Posted by: Stephen Douglas | Aug 27, 2016 2:01:08 AM

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