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April 30, 2014

Montana Supreme Court orders resentencing in controversial rape case

As reported in this AP article, a "former high school teacher who served one month in prison after being convicted of raping a 14-year-old student faces more time behind bars after the Montana Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that his original sentence was too short." Here is more about a seeming just resolution to a high-profile and controversial state sentencing case:

Justices in a unanimous ruling ordered the case of Stacey Dean Rambold assigned to a new judge for re-sentencing. The decision means Rambold must serve a minimum of two years in prison under state sentencing laws, Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito said.

The high court cited, in part, the inflammatory comments of the sentencing judge, District Judge G. Todd Baugh, who drew wide condemnation for suggesting that the victim shared some responsibility for her rape. Baugh said during Rambold's sentencing in August that the teenager was "probably as much in control of the situation as the defendant." He later apologized....

The defendant was a 47-year-old business teacher at Billings Senior High School at the time of the 2007 rape. The victim, one of his students, killed herself while Rambold was awaiting trial. Rambold's sentence had been appealed by the state Department of Justice. Attorney General Tim Fox said the Supreme Court's decision had "rebuffed attempts to place blame on a child victim of this horrible crime."

Under state law, children younger than 16 cannot consent to sexual intercourse. Rambold's attorneys insisted in court filings that the original sentence was appropriate, and cited a "lynch mob" mentality following a huge public outcry over the case. Like Baugh, they suggested the girl bore some responsibility and referenced videotaped interviews with her before she committed suicide. Those interviews remain under seal by the court....

The family of victim Cherice Moralez issued a statement through attorney Shane Colton saying the court's decision had restored their faith in the judicial system. The statement urged the family's supporters to continue working together to keep children safe from sexual predators. During last year's sentencing hearing, prosecutors sought a 20-year prison term for Rambold with 10 years suspended.

But Baugh followed Lansing's recommendations and handed down a sentence of 15 years with all but 31 days suspended and a one-day credit for time served. Rambold was required to register as a sex offender upon his release and to remain on probation through 2028. After a public outcry, Baugh acknowledged the sentence violated state law and attempted retroactively to revise it but was blocked when the state filed its appeal.

The Supreme Court decision did not specify what sentence would be more appropriate. That means Rambold potentially could face even more time in prison. County Attorney Twito said he would consult with attorneys in his office and the victim's family before deciding how much prison time prosecutors will seek. The case will likely be assigned to a new judge sometime next week, Baugh said Wednesday. He said he was not surprised by the court's decision.

The judge sparked outrage when he commented that Moralez appeared "older than her chronological age." Her 2010 suicide took away the prosecution's main witness and resulted in a deferred-prosecution agreement that required Rambold to attend a sex-offender treatment program. When he was booted from that program — for not disclosing a sexual relationship with an adult woman and having an unauthorized visit with the children of his relatives — the prosecution on the rape charge was revived.

During August's sentencing, the judge appeared sympathetic to the defendant, fueling a barrage of complaints against him from advocacy groups and private citizens. It also led to a formal complaint against Baugh from the Montana Judicial Standards Commission that's now pending with the state Supreme Court. Justices said they intend to deal with Baugh separately. But their sharp criticism of the judge's actions signals that some sort of punishment is likely. "Judge Baugh's statements reflected an improper basis for his decision and cast serious doubt on the appearance of justice," Justice Michael Wheat wrote. "There is no basis in the law for the court's distinction between the victim's 'chronological age' and the court's perception of her maturity."

The full Montana Supreme Court decision is available at this link.

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April 30, 2014 at 07:18 PM | Permalink


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Next step: reaffecting the Hon. Baugh to the traffic court.

Posted by: visitor | May 1, 2014 4:48:37 AM

A notable side issue in this appeal, which is revealed only by reading the actual opinion (which Doug has been kind enough to provide us a link to) is that the prosecutors failed to object to the illegal 31 day sentence at the time it was imposed by the Judge! Just an astounding oversight. Nevertheless, the appellate court was able to reach and reverse the mistake under Montana law, since it was plain error (an illegal sentence, below the statutory minimum). The courtroom prosecutors didn't perform very well in this case either! If they had made a proper objection at sentencing and explained to the Judge that his proposed sentence was below the mandatory minimum, he would have corrected it by imposing a longer sentence during the hearing, and this entire appeal could have been avoided.

Posted by: Jim Gormley | May 1, 2014 1:50:19 PM

of course the state supreme court has just become a criminal as well. Sorry but unless you can so some collusion on the part of the defendant and the judge to rig the sentence you don't get to do a do-over. Not the defendant's fault the judge supposedly messed up.

here's a silly thought maybe if the state didn't make the sentencing system so complicated not even a cray supercomputer can spit out one. you wouldn't have this problem.

Posted by: rodsmith | May 1, 2014 1:52:39 PM

Too much criticism of the Judge. Too much time in prison for the defendant. Too many teachers are preying on students. Those who can: do. Those who can't: teach. Those who can't teach: teach teachers.

Posted by: Liberty1st | May 1, 2014 8:52:14 PM

So were talking "statutory rape" or actual rape? If this was a female teacher and a male student, it would not be controversial.

I agree the sentence is too short, but its a double standard. In addition there are cases where a 17 year old has fake ids, and goes to bars
and then a 21 year old is punished for life due to a registry. I don't understand why parents aren't outraged that their teenage son or young adult son could be a perfectly normal person and this situation can happen.

Posted by: Alex | May 2, 2014 3:57:04 AM


You think that statutory rape can't be "actual" rape? Especially in this case, where a 47-year old had sex with a 14-year-old?

I thought we already went over this when Whoopi Goldberg swallowed her foot down to the ankle a few years ago. My, how we quickly forget...

Posted by: Res ipsa | May 2, 2014 10:41:58 AM

Well, the courts and the media don't really treat it that way, a female teacher in her 40s with a male student in high school often gets treated lightly. However, if its the other way around, I'm not sure what will happen, and of course if its a male defendant who's mentally ill and has sex with somebody who's female, a DA who might be a woman for example will charge the male even though his mental illness could be considered lack of ability to consent(notice in death penalty cases how many defendants are mentally re-tarted), however its female to male, or even lesbian relationships the courts and the media ignore it or protest in favor of it(the hunt case).

Posted by: Alex | May 6, 2014 11:09:38 AM

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