Oh, this is not a good look. This is not a good look at all.
Aaron Persky, the Santa Clara Superior Court judge who presided over the Stanford sexual assault case that generated massive headlines several weeks ago, is back in the news, and it is unfortunately for the exact reasons you might think.
Normally you don’t hear the name of a judge come up that much when you’re reading about a court case—maybe a few sound bites sprinkled into news articles, but that’s pretty much it. Persky, however, became a symbol for a justice system that passively perpetuates rape culture when he gave Brock Turner, the defendant in that case, a six-month jail sentence and probation despite the fact that he was found guilty on all three counts of felony sexual assault. The prosecution recommended he serve six years.
Well today the Guardian reports that Persky is presiding over another, similar sexual assault case involving a 32-year-old man who attacked his roommate and was arrested after she called the police and reported the incident. That 32-year-old man admitted to his crime upon being arrested and plead guilty to a felony of sexual penetration by force. As a result he will serve three years in a state prison, which is the minimum sentence associated with his crime.
The thing is, that 32-year-old man is a poor immigrant from El Salvador named Raul Ramirez, which, if you’re keeping score at home, sounds significantly less white than Brock Turner.
Ramirez entered his roommate’s bedroom and forcibly digitally penetrated her for several minutes until she started crying, and then stopped. This is similar to what Brock Turner did to his victim, except she was not conscious enough to cry. One police officer involved said that, “Ramirez knew what he did was wrong and he wanted to say sorry.” Luckily for Turner, California law does not currently consider attacking an unconscious person to be as serious an offense as attacking a conscious one (but legislation is now being introduced to treat the crimes as equal, and carry with them a minimum sentence of three years in prison).
Playing the compare and contrast game between these two cases just gets more infuriating the more you know. After being charged, Ramirez’s bail was set at $200,000, compared to the $150,000 that was issued for Turner, and the case did not go to trial because Ramirez agreed to a plea deal, which is what lead him to the three-year sentence. Like Turner, Ramirez has no convictions for violent felonies on his record.
Unlike Turner, Ramirez admitted to what he did and expressed contrition, but as Persky said in the previous case, “I’m not convinced that [Turner’s] lack of complete acquiescence to the verdict should count against him.” At least Persky is consistent on the point of apologies not carrying any weight in his courtroom.
After the Turner verdict came through, a former Los Angeles county sex crimes prosecutor named Dmitry Gorin told the Los Angeles Times that, “It is very unusual to have six months and probation in a case like this. The assault with intent to commit rape usually carries a prison sentence,” adding that, “His background and no [criminal] record were a major factor. I cannot think of a similar local case where a defendant convicted by a jury of such a violent crime avoided prison.” Maybe Gorin should have added “his race” into that list of extenuating circumstances, too.
Ramirez’s deal did not have an option for probation or a lighter sentence, which is certainly part of why his punishment was stiffer than the one handed down to the former Stanford student. Turner had the two most serious charges against him, rape of an intoxicated person and rape of an unconscious person, dropped in a preliminary hearing, whereas Ramirez plead guilty to the most severe charge leveled against him.
But where Persky appears to have made exceptions in the case of Turner to keep him from serving meaningful jail time it does not seem he was overcome with the same compulsion to relieve any such suffering from Ramirez, who had to use a Spanish language interpreter in court and could not afford as strong of a defense team as Turner.
The prosecution, in this case, did not take issue with the three-year sentencing Persky presided over, because it was in line with the legally advised punishment for his crime. Turner, however, could have served up to 14 years, but based on the judge’s discretion he got six months—only three of which will be spent in jail. As defense attorney Alexander Cross told the Guardian, “What’s happened with Mr. Ramirez is standard. The anomaly is the Stanford case.”
Michele Landis Dauber, the Stanford law professor who is now campaigning to get Persky recalled from the bench, responded to the new sentencing by saying, “This just shows that our concern about Judge Persky’s ability to be unbiased is justified. We continue to think that he abused his discretion in giving an unduly lenient sentence to Turner.” She added that, “Turner got consideration not available to other defendants who aren’t as privileged.”
A study conducted by the Associated Press that surveyed 20 criminal cases presided over by Persky found no pattern of bias. But his handling of the Stanford case has been enough to get him removed from consideration as a judge in another upcoming sexual assault case in his jurisdiction. Santa Clara county district attorney Jeff Rosen said, that in light of recent events, “We lack confidence that Judge Persky can fairly participate in this upcoming hearing in which a male nurse sexually assaulted an anesthetized female patient.” Additionally, 22 jurors refused to serve in Persky’s courtroom and cited his involvement in a case as a hardship.
The important thing to remember is that judges like Aaron Persky are not the problem. They are a symptom of something much larger and much worse: a system that permits people to affect discrimination and perpetuate rape culture by allowing people in power to use discretion against legally born out facts.
Stay tuned everyone, because this fight is far from over, and it extends beyond the halls of a California court house.