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June 9, 2016

"The Stanford rape case demonstrates liberal hypocrisy on issues of basic fairness in the criminal justice system"

The title of this post is the subheadline of this notable new Slate commentary authored by Mark Joseph Stern run under the main headline "Justice for None." The piece highlights that we are already now at the stage of seeing some backlash to the backlash over the lenient sentence given to Brock Turner. Here are excerpts:

Brock Turner is an odious criminal who committed a heinous act and deserves to go to prison for much longer than his six-month sentence requires. His trial confirmed that both racism and sexism continue to plague America’s criminal justice system, especially where rape is involved. Yet in their rush to condemn Turner’s sentence, far too many liberals have abandoned what were, not so long ago, fundamental principles of progressivism.  This willingness to toss due process out the window in sexual assault cases is, unfortunately, indicative of a broader inconsistency that plagues the American left....

[T]he movement to remove Persky from the bench will not, and cannot, be limited to this one case. It would set a clear precedent that liberals should feel empowered to knock judges off the bench when they really disapprove of their rulings.  That is an extraordinarily dangerous mindset — one conservatives have exploited for decades. In 1986, Republicans spearheaded a successful campaign to oust three justices from the California Supreme Court over their judicial opposition to capital punishment.  The overtly partisan effort politicized the court and temporarily shattered the state judiciary’s independence. More recently, anti-gay activists ousted three judges from the Iowa Supreme Court over their votes affirming same-sex couples’ right to wed.

American liberals have long looked upon these efforts as antithetical to the judiciary’s responsibility to remain above politics and faithfulness to the law.  Is that belief suspended when the judge issued a sexist ruling rather than a progressive one?  Even worse, Persky has received anonymous threats from social justice advocates outraged by his ruling. These hecklers may believe their cause to be noble, but they are taking a page straight from Donald Trump’s playbook — not a good look for activists hoping to combat everything Trump stands for.

Then there is the widely lauded victim impact statement Turner’s victim read during the sentencing hearing.  I am glad she wrote this extraordinarily powerful letter and glad so many millions have read and been moved by it.  But it had absolutely no place in the courtroom. Victim impact statements were once a liberal bête noire, and rightly so, because they seriously undermine the defendant’s due process rights.  In a criminal sentencing hearing, the judge (or jury) should consider only the facts of the case at hand in determining the defendant’s culpability.  Victim impact statements introduce a massive amount of emotion into the proceedings, allowing the judge or jury to be swayed by emotional response rather than logical reflection.  That, in turn, shifts the focus away from the defendant and toward the victim while injecting arbitrariness into the sentencing process.  The defendant’s punishment may well hinge on how emotionally compelling the victim can make his or her statement....

Liberals’ blasé attitude toward judicial impeachment and victim impact statements in the Turner case, then, must be viewed as part of a larger trend: the willingness among a certain faction of the American left to jettison progressive principles in a good-hearted but profoundly misguided effort to stop sexual violence.  That is a noble cause, but it cannot justify unraveling the most cherished safeguards of our criminal justice system.  What Brock Turner did was sickening; what he received as punishment is far less than what he deserved.  But eroding due process and threatening judicial independence is not the way to bring his victim justice.

Prior related posts:

June 9, 2016 at 11:09 PM | Permalink


"his willingness to toss due process out the window in sexual assault cases is, unfortunately, indicative of a broader inconsistency that plagues the American left...."

Oh good luck. I've been preaching this manta for the last three decades. Indeed, more than a decade ago on this very blog I refereed to it as "sex offender exceptionalism." We as a society are sex mad and it has been going on since at least the Victorian era, though in the 80s it went from a slow simmer to an ferocious boil.

Fundamentally--as some posters on this blog well illustrate--it always is going to be interest before principle. He writes, "the willingness among a certain faction of the American left to jettison progressive principles in a good-hearted but profoundly misguided effort to stop sexual violence." Well, this is true if by a "certain faction" he means the vast majority.

Posted by: Daniel | Jun 10, 2016 1:12:58 PM

Although I am not sure how I view the sentence as it relates to this conviction, I think it has an overall positive result. If the guy had received 6 years, most of us would have said "good" and carried on. But that did not happen. Instead, the world has had a wide-ranging discussion, not only about the propriety of the sentence, but the crime itself. If the purpose of sentencing is, in part, preventing future crime, I would say that this sentence has accomplished that better than most.

What is our object here? To vindictively punish someone for a horrid crime or to attempt to rehabilitate him so that he can become a productive member of society? Will a longer sentence really help the victim?

If the purpose is also deterrence, a stricter sentence would probably be better. When we jail people for years for possessing small amounts of drugs, but only 6 months for rape, what does that say about how we intend to deter crime?

Posted by: Allan | Jun 10, 2016 1:45:02 PM

I am none of the above. I'm someone trying to understand the logic behind the judges decision without using my emotional connection (I'm a woman) to the victim. Is there a reason other than it would have a "severe impact" on Mr. Turner that the judge gave him such a lenient sentence? Why only six months? Can you say with complete certainty the the fact that the judge's alma mater is Stanford was the reason Turner was given such a short sentence. I'm a conservative African American woman and have be screaming some of the same things that the first poster stated in his response. I really would like to understand, so are there any readings you could recommend?

Posted by: Mariel Gray | Jun 10, 2016 1:52:52 PM

@ Mariel Gray

While I comprehend your desire to know at the end of the day the only person who truly knows why the judge did what he did is the judge himself. However, if you want some general insight into how judges sentence from a judge I strongly recommend this site:


It is no longer in publication but was written by a federal judge who occasionally posted about the art of judging criminals and how sometimes his judgments were very wrong, in hindsight.

Posted by: Daniel | Jun 10, 2016 7:13:36 PM

Liberals generally suck on crime. First of all, only a moron would think that a victim impact statement shouldn't be allowed. The defense gets to put on all the reasons why Johnny had a hard life . . . . and the argument that there is emotion in the statement--oh good grief--well, gee, crime is bad because it profoundly hurts people.

Violent crime often involves absolutely appalling acts--the rape of children in front of parents, the murder of parents in front of children, and all libs want to do is be nice to these people. Look at Sonia Sotomayor--that twisted judge thought that the Carr brothers ought to get hooked up, despite the law. She deserves nothing but calumny.

Posted by: federalist | Jun 11, 2016 1:27:46 PM

Our two Swedish heroes come across a couple of drunken people, a woman and a young man, lying on the ground next to a dumpster. The woman has her hands down the man's pants and he is past out. Imagine the uproar and lamentation that ensues; the feminists pedagogues, political opportunists, and wannabe Nancy Grace's on television crying, "Burn the witch, burn the witch!" Not..

Liberal morality is guided by feminist ideology. Thus perhaps, Brock Turner's principle offense is simply being male. The legal system bows to political pressure from feminists who demand that the law privilege women with a more protected and untouchable status and take far greater offense at the perceived abuse of women than men. The result is a society that demands men be punished more severely than women for the same offenses.

Our morality and legal system are sexist as are liberals and feminists. From the traditional enforcement of age of consent laws that would allow the prosecution of a 16 year old boy for having sex with his 17 year old girl friend to laws that confused drunken hookups with sexual assault, the legal system seeks to protect women by enforcing a double stand that holds that women should not be held to the same standards of accountability as men while criminalizing men and boys for behavior that is only deemed criminal when males do it.

Posted by: Martin L. Bring | Aug 6, 2016 1:56:56 PM

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