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October 23, 2016

California judge imposes prison term of 1,503 years(!?!) on father who repeatedly raped daughter

As reported in this local article, a state judge in California gave new meaning to the term "mass incarceration" by imposing a prison sentence on a rapist that will not be completed until the year 3519.  Here are the details:

Fresno prosecutor Nicole Galstan asked a judge on Friday to sentence Rene Lopez to 1,503 years in prison for raping his teenage daughter over a four-year period, ending in 2013.  Judge Edward Sarkisian Jr. agreed, sentencing the 41-year-old Lopez to the longest-known prison sentence in Fresno Superior Court history.

It stands in stark contrast to recent high-profile sentencings in sexual assault cases such as six months for ex-Stanford swimmer Brock Turner and, just this week, 60 days for a Montana man convicted of felony incest for raping his 12-year-old daughter.

In announcing the punishment, Sarkisian told Lopez he violated a position of trust, engaged in violent conduct and is a “serious danger to society.” Sarkisian also noted that Lopez had never shown remorse and has blamed his daughter for his predicament.

Lopez, who sat shackled in the courtroom, sat silently, never acknowledging his daughter, who told Sarkisian that she feared her father. (The Fresno Bee does not name victims of sexual abuse.) “When my father abused me, I was young. I had no power, no voice. I was defenseless,” said the daughter, who now is 23 years old. She also told the judge that her father never has shown remorse for her pain and suffering....

In September, a jury found Lopez guilty of 186 felony counts of sexual assault, including dozens of counts of rape of a minor.  Galstan said the victim was first sexually abused by a family friend.  But instead of the father protecting his daughter, “he chose to turn her into a piece of property and use her to satisfy his sexual needs,” the prosecutor told the judge.

The victim was raped two to three times a week from May 2009 to May 2013.  Galstan said it ended only when the girl got the courage to leave him. Even then, her father would drive by her new home and later leave love songs on her message machine, the judge said....

At Friday’s hearing, Sarkisian read the date of each felony count, which included Lopez raping his daughter on Christmas and other holidays.  Before he announced the sentence, Sarkisian said Lopez turned down two plea deals. Before his preliminary hearing, if he had admitted his guilt, prosecutors would have recommended 13 years in prison. Lopez rejected the offer. Then before his trial, he was offered 22 years in prison if he admitted his guilt. Lopez declined that offer, saying he should be released from jail for the time he already had served, Sarkisian said.

“He ruined her teenage years and made her feel like it was her fault,” Galstan said in arguing for the maximum sentence.

Lopez, who did not testify in his trial, wrote in a letter to the judge that he didn’t get a fair trial and that his daughter lied on the witness stand. “It’s hearsay,” he says in the letter.  But Sarkisian told him that he received a fair trial and that the evidence was overwhelming.  In addition to the victim’s testimony, jurors heard entries from her diary in which she chronicled her father’s crimes against her, Galstan said.  And when she got pregnant from her father, he paid for the abortion, the judge said.

In addition to the prison sentence, Sarkisian said Lopez will have to register as a sex offender.

Though this defendant was convicted of extreme crimes that justified an extreme sentence, the decision of the prosecutor to seek and the judge to impose a term of 1,503 years in prison strikes me as silly and arguably counterproductive to the goal of helping all victims of sexual assault feel vindicated by the criminal justice system.  It is silly, I think, to impose upon a defendant a crazy-long-impossible prison sentence just for symbolic effect, just as a restitution sentence of, say, "one trillion, zillion, billion dollars" would be silly.  And this crazy-long-impossible prison sentence could, at least indirectly, make other victims of sexual assault whose victimizers were given much shorter sentences feel as though their harms were not entirely vindicated in their cases.

UPDATE: Over at his blog Simple Justice, Scott Greenfield has this effective new post titled "Rape, Incest And Retribution" to highlights how this case takes us from "the sublime to the ridiculous" as we reflect on what this case represents against the backdrop of other recent controversial sexual assault cases in California and Montana. In addition to recommending this post in full, I also recommend the comments there (as well as this funny button Scott provides if his post hurts your feelings).

October 23, 2016 at 11:09 PM | Permalink


How does this case represent "extreme crimes"? Nothing in the facts mentioned even indicates that it is rape. The fact that the victim (1) had sex with him 2-3 times a week for 5 years, (2) then left him, and (3) he responded to her leaving with love songs, all make this look like a twisted, deviant relationship where the girl had regrets - not rape.

Was she vulnerable? Seems so. Are there sometimes girls out there who can't say no? Yes. Is taking advantage of that creepy? Yes. Criminal? No. Again, without seeing evidence that suggests violent coercion, I don't think this meets the elements of rape in California (PC 261).

He was, of course, guilty of unlawful sex for when she was 16 until she turned 18. I've seen similar cases where defendants who had aggravated cases (moreso than this) were sentenced to 7-10 years based on 261.5 and 288a.

The other major reason that I don't believe this was a real rape case, is that if it was, the DA never would have offered him 13 years. You don't get a deal offered for 13 years if you continually rape a victim for 5 years. The fact that that offer was even made shows me that this is a clear example of ridiculously abusive overcharging coupled with politics.

I can't believe all you have to say is "oh this number is so high it's silly". 20 years would have been too high if the DA offered 13.

I would like to hope that the sentence would get reversed on appeal, but that is unlikely because of political reasons. So I guess we just aren't allowed to have a sane, consistent criminal justice system for sex crimes anymore. Defendants just get thrown into a lottery where ridiculous prosecutors can overcharge them, and ridiculous judges can violate sentencing laws by running everything consecutive. Charges are not supposed to be run consecutively without aggravation, and the same is true when the crimes are all part of the same course of conduct, which this clearly was.

Posted by: thisisinsane | Oct 24, 2016 1:25:06 AM

To the above commenter, I can't even begin to grapple with the toxic waste dump of inhumanity that is your post. To dismiss the victim of incest as a jilted lover is objectively false and light years beyond any twisted interpretation of zealous advocacy. I fear for the community where you lurk.

Posted by: basic human decency | Oct 24, 2016 3:22:43 AM

I won't attempt to get into the facts of the case though I absolutely agree with the comments both of Doug and thisisinsane regarding the imposition of such a ridiculous sentence. What were the prosecutor and judge thinking of? Sentencing appears to be an exercise treated as a childish game rather than a serious, responsible and rational judgement. Utterly contemptible, but of course much more than that for the person sentenced .... and indeed for the whole US justice system which must be diminished further in the eyes of the world if this is allowed to stand.

Posted by: peter | Oct 24, 2016 4:04:28 AM

I understand how such an individual would not want to admit guilt but the two plea deals suggest that the penalty is a bit extreme generally.

The first comment is over the top. First, you wouldn't know from it that his DAUGHTER was the victim. Reference is made to "can't say no" as if it is some run of the mill case of a person who cannot bring him or herself to do that. The fact it is his DAUGHTER is kind of relevant there. The "love songs" reference is also shall we say misguided. Many an abuser would do something like that. Yes, it is "twisted," but doesn't stop the criminal part.

It is also understandable given the stress involved in the daughter testifying, the fact it begun on the borders of adulthood and perhaps other factors that the prosecutor wished to provide a plea that would seem to some relatively short. It also might have been short since the government realized he wouldn't admit guilt or admitting guilt would have be an important part of the whole thing. The pregnancy/abortion btw is an aggravating factor.

Anyway, since he did not admit guilt and didn't take either plea deal, a suitable punishment does reasonably seem above 22 years. I assume CA offers a chance him to get out before his sentence is up unlike the federal practice (minus good time credits). Or, simply give him life at worse.

Posted by: Joe | Oct 24, 2016 9:58:49 AM

Why do we fly-speck stuff like this? Yeah, the sentence looks silly--but so what? There's a very important salutary effect--186 counts shows just what this guy did--basically six months every day raping his own daughter. Evil. Pure unadulterated evil.

Posted by: federalist | Oct 24, 2016 10:44:16 AM

My only problem with a sentence like this is that the law does not provide for turning any sentence longer than say 3/4ths of the offender's expected lifespan into one of natural life. I do agree that a term of 1500+ years is silly, in a way I see it actually detracting from the seriousness of his offenses, but if it were instead LWOP that factor would be neutered.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Oct 24, 2016 11:00:15 AM

An effective life sentence doesn't seem unreasonable here. It would be nice if sentences over 100 years were converted to life sentences - that way you don't run into the issue of trivializing it (either by imposing a ridiculously short sentence on each charge or coming up with some absurd final number). I suppose the time could have been run concurrent to address the issue somewhat?

Posted by: Erik M | Oct 24, 2016 11:32:45 AM

FACT: The defendant was convicted of 163 counts of Rape, see California Penal Code section 261(a)(2), another 22 counts of Rape, these counts with an enhancement for Rape of a Minor 14 or older and 1 count of Forcible Oral Copulation.
FACT: After the defendant has been incarcerated for 25 years he will be eligible for parole under the Elderly Parole program (he is currently 41).
FACT: The verdicts and sentence will be reviewed by the 5th DCA, the Cal. Supremes and likely the 9th Circuit. I would invite the readers to consider that some counts may well be reversed on appeal (like if Reinhardt gets his hands on it...). So why wouldn't a prosecutor maximize the sentence for someone so despicable?
QUESTION: OK, Professor Berman, if you consider this sentence "crazy-long-impossible", what do you believe is appropriate for someone who repeatedly raped his daughter over a period of some 3 years after she had to move in with him, when she did not speak English and had no other family in the US?

Posted by: Cal. Prosecutor | Oct 24, 2016 11:33:58 AM


The law is the realm of possibilities, not impossibilities. Thus the imposition of any sentence which the prisoner cannot possibly comply with is against the rule of law, is by definition tyranny, and motivated by a desire to enslave. Even if you believe that the defendant is evil that cannot justify evil on the part of the law.

As for you concern about the record, the case itself is already a record of the crimes. The *sentence* does not need to memorialize again what the convictions amply demonstrate.

More broadly, it is case like this that has turned me against the death penalty. Fundamentally conservatives in this country have shown that they have no sense of proportion. I will never trust a man or a party that has no sense of proportion.

Posted by: Daniel | Oct 24, 2016 12:20:18 PM

He is being punished for making the DA work / do their job.

Quick conviction right off the bat - 13 years. A bit of work - 22 years. Exercise your constitutional right to a trial in front of your peers - 1,500 years. Your and my constitutional rights - priceless.

Posted by: Marco | Oct 24, 2016 12:56:45 PM

@Cal. Prosecutor ... some time in the lifetime of those other than vampires?

Posted by: Joe | Oct 24, 2016 1:38:23 PM

Life is the appropriate sentence.
States have mandatory minimums and sentencing guidelines. The 60 days AND the 1,500 years are both acceptable per those States laws & guidelines, if they weren't neither judge could have given these 2 contrasting sentences.
60 days for raping your/a child is inferior and offensive but 1,500 years for the same is distorted and inordinate.
Life, is life and the public needs to accept that. Anything more than 75 years (life for more than 95% of those facing convictions) is political pandering and shouldn't be allowed in US courts.

Posted by: Mary Devoy | Oct 24, 2016 3:05:04 PM

AND...if you thought that the sentence wasn't strong ENOUGH....

"In addition to the prison sentence, Sarkisian said Lopez will have to register as a sex offender."

THAT'LL teach him!!

(Of course, this DOES underscore how the registry is in fact punitive, not regulatory, but I digress.)

Posted by: Eric Knight | Oct 24, 2016 3:42:26 PM

A commenter above pointed out the charge he was convicted of, 261(a)(2), which requires that the sex "is accomplished against a person's will by means of force, violence, duress, menace, or fear of immediate and unlawful bodily injury on the person or another."

Here is my problem with that: if this guy used force/violence, it would be in the news story. So I think it is a safe bet that there wasn't any. Instead all we get from the prosecutor stating FACT FACT FACT is that (1) she didn't speak english, and (2) had no other family in the US. Those facts do not make this a forcible rape case. Again, unless some major facts are being left out, this appears to be a non-forcible case involving incest and unlawful sex. The incest gets left out because PC 654 blocks extra punishment for it anyway.

The main problem with this sentence is (1) over-charging, and (2) abuse of consecutive sentencing. This is 1 victim. This is one course of conduct. The fact that it involved a large number of sexual encounters over a period of 4-5 years makes the case more aggravated, but addressing that the way a law student would by seeing how high you could get the number to go is ridiculous and insane.

If the daughter was under 14, this guy's conduct would fall under a single charge: 288.5, which carries up to 16 years. So why should a guy who has sex with a 12 year old over a prolonged period of time get 6-16 years while this guy gets over 1500, just because he was unlucky enough to get a ridiculous prosecutor and judge who exploited a loophole in the system to bring about a ridiculous result?

Posted by: thisisinsane | Oct 24, 2016 5:25:52 PM

You quoted something with various options and then noted TWO of them don't appear to be involved. What about the "duress, menace, or fear of immediate and unlawful bodily injury on the person or another" part?

The details do appear to meet that & that's what is required. Not we should expect a single news story will tell us all the details involved here. Nor, is it the case that ALL that was said was "she didn't speak English, and (2) had no other family in the US." The article doesn't say the case was merely based on this.

What is the value is such an incomplete one-sided argument that even his lawyer might find lacking? How you repeatedly selectively state the facts, when few here are not sympathetic that the actual sentence is a tad ridiculous, makes it hard to take your final numbers at face value.

Posted by: Joe | Oct 24, 2016 11:22:15 PM

What I would like to know, in a case like this, how does the state go about proving every count beyond reasonable doubt. Merely saying that he raped her two or three times a week over some period and then calculating based on that does not seem sufficient.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Oct 25, 2016 1:31:35 AM

It is cases like this that confirm that I am right to believe that the U.S. justice system is a joke. So many people in it are really nothing but criminals and terrorists themselves. Sitting in judgement of other people.

Clearly the guy committed serious crimes (assuming he did it and I would never even believe that without seeing the facts myself). But truly, sentencing a person to years in prison is a very serious punishment. And this normal procedure of offering plea deals with certain terms and then promising that if the person is convicted at a trial the punishment will be multiple times worse - that needs to be fixed somehow. It's not even moral.

I think that ALL Americans, especially judges, should be required to serve in the military for a couple of years and be imprisoned for perhaps a year. If that were done, this country would have a fraction of the douche bags that it does today. The U.S. is the world leader in douche bags per capita.

Posted by: FRegistryTerrorists | Oct 25, 2016 2:11:20 AM

Joe, my post right above yours quotes the law directly. What details, in your opinion, meet that criteria? I am not seeing any. Those words are terms of art with particular legal meanings, like "menace", so which facts show "force, violence, duress, menace, or fear of immediate and unlawful bodily injury"?

The news stories on cases like this pretty much always mention the important aggravation because the DA, which is the source for the news stories, loves to talk about it. So yes, if he threatened to kill her if she didn't have sex with him, I would expect that to be mentioned. Instead, all we get is the length of the relationship, and the incest angle.

Soronel, the truth is that they don't. They took the rough guess from the victim about how many times it happened, got a calculator, and then copy/pasted out that number of charges. The "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard is actually very weak in practice, since plenty of juries don't follow it, and the appellate courts will not save you as long as their is any evidence at all backing up what the jury/judge did, even if it is a tiny scrap of evidence and there is a mountain of contradictory evidence. Practically speaking, the law requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt of each individual rape. That obviously didn't happen here, but nobody cared, because hey, the guy is gross and sick and yucky, so let's throw the law out the window.

Posted by: thisisinsane | Oct 25, 2016 3:31:25 PM

We don't know all the details and your citation of the article as if an article is going to have all the necessary details (the argument that such and such would be cited there if it was present) is misguided. Articles repeatedly leave things out.

It is not too hard to imagine that someone in her condition would feel "duress" or "menace" or whatever -- including following the terms of the terms per case law -- in various ways that meets the terms of the law.

Posted by: Joe | Oct 28, 2016 12:09:12 PM

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