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Sex Crimes: Can Public Pressure Affect Sentencing?

July 22, 2016, on Articles |

Whenever a defendant gets convicted of a crime, a sentence must be handed down. Despite the fact that there are sentencing guidelines, maximum sentences and even mandatory minimum sentences in some cases, judges can have a great deal of discretion when it comes to sentencing in many cases.

Such discretion is necessary because every defendant and every crime is different. Sometimes, the circumstances of the case and the character of the defendant can, for example, make a lighter sentence a more appropriate outcome.

Unfortunately, in sex crimes cases, there is often a lot of public pressure to impose harsh sentences. Sex crimes are stigmatized in public perception, and this could perhaps affect how a defendant is sentenced. One recent case that led to a massive public outcry might also make judges more reluctant in the future to impose lighter sentences, even if the judge believes that leniency is appropriate in a particular situation. 

Because of public pressure to impose harsh penalties, it is especially important for those accused of such types of crimes to seek representation from an experienced New York sex crimes defense attorney.

Public Pressure and Sex Crimes Sentencing

The recent case that resulted in a public outcry involved a Stanford student who was accused of sexually assaulting an intoxicated woman behind a dumpster after a fraternity party. The victim, who was passed out at the time of the assault, wrote a victim impact statement to the judge, which went viral. 

The defendant was found guilty of sexual assault, and he, too, wrote a statement to the judge, along with several of his family members. Their statements went viral as well and were widely criticized.

The judge, acting upon a recommendation from a probation officer to sentence the defendant to a moderate county jail, sentenced the defendant to six months in jail and three years of probation.  The maximum possible sentence that the defendant could have faced based on the crime he was convicted of was 14 years and the prosecutors were asking for 6 years of imprisonment.

After the sentence was announced, the public condemned the judge's decision. A recall campaign was brought against him, and the Santa Clara County district attorney removed him from a different sexual assault case, with the DA telling CNN that: “After ... the recent turn of 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.”

The consequences of the judge's decision to sentence the man to six months of imprisonment have been far-reaching for his career, such that the judge has become a nationally-known figure.  These undesirable consequences could deter other judges in the future from making an independent and objective decision on the sentencing of sexual assault defendants. Emotions run high, cases become national news, and judges could feel immense public pressure to throw the book at defendants or face consequences that could damage their own careers.

Those accused of sex crimes need to be aware of the possible impact of public pressure for harsher sentences. A knowledgeable sex crimes defense lawyer at The Law Office of James E. Tyner, PLLC can help defendants try to avoid conviction or argue for the most lenient sentence possible.