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June 9, 2016

NY Times debates "Should an Unpopular Sentence in the Stanford Rape Case Cost a Judge His Job?"

The Room for Debate section of the New York Times has this new set of notable commentaries discussing whether the judicial recall effort in the controversial Standford sexual assault sentencing case is a good idea.  Here is the section's set up:

A California judge sentenced Brock Allen Turner to only six months in jail for raping an unconscious woman after a Stanford University fraternity party, despite her angry, eloquent, courtroom denunciation of the way she and other rape survivors are treated.  In response, a petition was started to hold a recall election to throw him off the bench.

But should judges be subject to recall because of an unpopular sentence or would that impede their independence?

Here are the contributions, with links via the commentary titles:

June 9, 2016 at 09:37 AM | Permalink


I haven't heard this mentioned, but do the people who think the judge should be recalled also think the probation officers who wrote the recommendation the judge accepted be fired, too?

Posted by: thinkaboutit | Jun 9, 2016 9:40:46 AM

Excellent question

Posted by: Doug B. | Jun 9, 2016 10:00:18 AM

The victim said she didn't want a long incarceration. Not that I think that dispositive---it's just a fact that is part of the mix.

The victim's statement is very powerful. We talk about people having courage--she does.

Posted by: federalist | Jun 9, 2016 10:23:49 AM

The coverage noted that the judge here was a former prosecutor of sex crimes. Suggests no one data point will determine things. We saw this with former prosecutors on the Supreme Court.

I don't think a single 'indecent' or mistaken or "unpopular" sentence should be reason for recall, but unless very careful limits are placed, recall attempts will leave that open. One strike and you are out is bad policy as a general matter.

Posted by: Joe | Jun 9, 2016 10:54:21 AM

There are two separate questions. One question is whether the people should have the POWER to recall a judge. I think they should. The second question is whether this specific instance of the recall power is an APPROPRIATE. I think it is not.

In other words, I support these people's right to recall the judge but if I were a citizen of the judge's electoral district I would vote against the effort to recall him.

Posted by: Daniel | Jun 9, 2016 11:07:24 AM

Interesting thing is that the Judge was up for re-election this year. Apparently was unopposed. Not sure how long California requires to wait after election for a recall; so technically can be recalled for remainder of this term but would then resume office in January.

Posted by: tmm | Jun 9, 2016 5:49:00 PM

It's not that the sentence was "unpopular", IT WAS WRONG!
Too many others doing way more time for lesser crimes.
Judicial system is so messed up!

Posted by: kat | Jun 10, 2016 9:56:04 AM

Judges are "wrong" multiple times but recall efforts are generally a matter of how unpopular they are. Judges also are going to be dead wrong at times. I would be interested to see a full examination of his sentencing decisions -- if possible -- since (as I noted elsewhere) curious if this was a total one-off.

Posted by: Joe | Jun 10, 2016 10:15:09 AM

Recall will only serve as a balancing, justice-seeking act once we've seen it deployed to deal with hanging judges...as well the far rarer incidents we see of judges showing mercy.

Absent that, it's yet another indication our society routinely exhibits the temperament of a lynch mob...and it is no accident America is widely known as Incarceration Nation.

We seem too quick to dismiss harsh aspects of seemingly lenient sentences. Six months in prison is no picnic. Neither is spending a life time on the sex-offender shaming lists and coping with the crippling restrictions they impose. Moreover I imagine it must seem powerfully punitive to someone once on track to a privileged, Stanford-grad life of ease and treasure to find themselves not just virtually unemployable for life but also loathed and shunned even by folks who once cared for them.

Recalling this judge would merely signal others on the bench the mob is watching and ready to pounce any time mercy might otherwise be considered.

Posted by: John K | Jun 16, 2016 10:35:44 AM

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