Injustice in Stanford rape case

Noor Naji, Asst. Opinion Editor

It has become a complete norm to hear the news that yet another young, privileged white man has received a shorter sentence even after being found guilty of a crime.

In March of last year, ex-Stanford swimmer Brock Turner was caught by two bikers while he was on top of a half-naked woman behind a dumpster on the Stanford campus at night. Both the unnamed woman and Turner were under the influence of alcohol, but unlike Turner, the woman was found unconscious.  A year later, the case has become another insufficient sentence of six months for a guilty man.

Turner’s actions have caused uproar and raised many questions about the criminal justice system. There is currently a recall petition on the judge presiding over the case, Aaron Persky. Judge Persky gave a sentence of six months, which is below the mandatory minimum, in county jail with the possibility to be released after three months on good behavior.

If we were to look at this differently and change the roles so that Brock Turner was an African-American instead of Caucasian, there is no doubt that the African-American Brock Turner would have received a much harsher sentence.  According to Human Rights Watch & Amnesty International, one out of every eight African-American youth who are convicted of murder will be sentenced to life without parole, compared to one in 13 white youth convicted of murder.

In regards to communities of color, black men under the age of 18 are disproportionately imprisoned and are tried as adults with severe sentences in comparison to those who are white. A study by the U.S. Sentencing Commission also shows that men of color receive sentences 20 percent longer than those who are white. The least we can demand is a consistency in the sentences for both white and black defendants.

Researcher Christopher Stone conducted a survey of studies on discrimination in the justice system saying that “there is no evidence of disparity that stretches across the justice system as a whole. … But studies of individual jurisdictions and specific parts of the court process do find some evidence of race bias in a significant number of cases.” Therefore, the issue isn’t the justice system altogether, but the “significant number of cases” that involved racial bias and therefore led to longer or shorter sentencing.

For example, in Montana, the Commission on Sentencing was authorized, by Senate Bill 224, to “assess various issues relating to the state’s prison system including: conducting an empirical study on the impact of existing sentencing policies… and addressing racial and ethnic disparities in the criminal justice system.” Such systems may be able to help reduce the number of cases involving prejudice and any bias.

Moreover, the UK has adopted a different legislation that doesn’t exist in the U.S. If a victim were to be dissatisfied with the sentence in the UK, he or she is allowed to stand before a review board demanding for a re-sentence. And in some occasions, the request for a re-sentence is granted. Considering Turner’s sentence, if this legislation were adopted, a re-sentence would have possibly resulted in a fairer outcome.

As we now know through her letter read aloud in court, what happened to this victim sends a worrisome message to other women not only on campuses, but also any place across the nation. It also sends a message to privileged people that they may not be held accountable in the same, harsh way people of color and poverty may face. While Judge Persky’s excuse for such a short sentence was that a longer sentence would have had a “severe impact” on Turner, what he didn’t consider was that the shorter sentencing would have a greater impact on the victim herself.