Contrary to the simplistic belief of many, criminal defense lawyers don’t argue for the best possible sentence because they believe that horrendous crimes deserve as little punishment as possible, but because that’s our duty to our client. Ken White explains why at Fault Lines. We expect, hope, to get the lowest possible sentence under the circumstances.
Sometimes it exceeds our wildest imagination. The six month sentence imposed by Judge Aaron Persky on rapist Brock Turner, the Stanford swimmer, was shocking. That his father wrote a tone deaf letter to the judge about his “steep price for 20 minutes of action” is outrageous, but unsurprising. After all, it’s a parent’s job to support his child. That the victim wrote an eloquent impact statement that moved everyone except the judge is beyond comprehension.
That the judge imposed such an absurdly insignificant sentence is hard to explain. The prosecution asked for six years. Paul Cassell would have given him 97 to 121 months. Bill Otis wants to give the judge life plus cancer for such an “unserious” sentence and argues that this proves the need for mandatory minimums.
There are a great many agendas wrapped up in Turner’s sentence, from the contention that men don’t take rape seriously to white privilege, and the need to remove overly lenient judges, putting the fear of recall into them lest they not match popular cries for harshness. The sentence in this case may not prove anything beyond one case, but it surely feeds every one of these arguments, and more.
But the tentacles of this case are extending in extreme ways. This isn’t surprising, given that it’s an extreme case with a terrible crime and an extremely lenient sentence, but still. One emanation is the cancellation of the Brooklyn tour of a three-sister band.
This weekend, four Brooklyn venues were set to host The Good English, a trio of sisters from Oakwood, Ohio who’ve been described as “the lovechild of Nancy Sinatra and Black Sabbath” and were going to play several shows affiliated with the Northside music festival. But after it was revealed that drummer Leslie Rasmussen wrote a letter to Judge Aaron Persky defending convicted rapist and former Stanford swimmer Brock Turner, those venues were besieged by requests from New Yorkers asking them to cancel the band’s appearances, and as of this afternoon, the band’s Brooklyn tour has been completely scrapped.
Leslie Rasmussen was a school friend of Turner’s, apparently from elementary school through Oakwood High, where they graduated in 2014. She wrote a letter in support of Turner for sentence. Whether the letter had any impact on Judge Persky isn’t known, but it surely had an impact on other readers when it was revealed.
I don’t think it’s fair to base the fate of the next ten + years of his life on the decision of a girl who doesn’t remember anything but the amount she drank to press charges against him. I am not blaming her directly for this, because that isn’t right. But where do we draw the line and stop worrying about being politically correct every second of the day and see that rape on campuses isn’t always because people are rapists.
Yes, she wrote that. This too.
This is completely different from a woman getting kidnapped and raped as she is walking to her car in a parking lot. That is a rapist. These are not rapists. These are idiot boys and girls having too much to drink and not being aware of their surroundings and having clouded judgement.
Some lawyers, me for instance, would never have offered such a letter to the court. We would have explained that it was not merely absurdly inappropriate, but counterproductive. It’s the sort of letter more likely to outrage a judge than anything else. The same, by the way, is true of Turner’s father’s letter, with its “20 minutes of action” statement.
Rasmussen chalks it up to political correctness, to drunken boys will be boys, to this being the victim’s fault, to this not being a “real rape.” She’s absolutely wrong on every assertion. If there is any explanation for her letter, it’s a friend trying to help a friend. At a time when mindless labels and shallow thought is as much as most people can muster, she rationalized away what her friend did. Turner raped an unconscious woman, and there is nothing that can justify that.
When the letter was made public, the reaction was strong and severe.
Rasmussen’s letter, originally posted to Twitter, got a fair amount of press yesterday, at which point some people began to realize Rasmussen’s connection to The Good English, and her intentions to perform across Brooklyn this weekend. Last night, Northside Festival’s Facebook page received an onslaught of angry posts, as did Bar Matchless, which is hosting the festival on Thursday and Friday; The Rock Shop, which is hosting an unofficial showcase that would have featured The Good English on Friday; Industry City Distillery, which was also hosting an unofficial showcase on Saturday; and Gold Sounds, which is hosting a separate showcase of women in music on Sunday that would have featured the band.
As one person wrote on twitter, “rape has no place in local venues.” Of course, Leslie Rasmussen didn’t rape anyone, though she was a apologist for it and did blame the victim. And she was the drummer in her three-sister band.
There is no First Amendment right to play at a venue, and the venues that cancelled the band because of Rasmussen’s letter, and the reaction to the letter, are fully entitled to do so, subject to whatever contractual issues may exist. And one of the foundational aspects of free speech is that as free as someone is to speak their mind, others are free to react to it as they deem appropriate, and impose consequences. Public shaming is such a consequence.
A serious concern is that letters in support of a defendant, particularly for a heinous crime, are often hard to obtain. People are understandably reluctant to connect themselves to criminals, fearing that any support will come back to bite them in the ass. That Leslie Rasmussen’s letter not only brought a shitstorm down on her, but on her sisters, their band, is the sort of thing that will deter people from getting involved, from putting their lives and reputations on the line to help a defendant facing sentence.
But then, few people would have written the letter Rasmussen wrote. And few lawyers would have allowed that letter to see the light of day. This case is an outlier in every respect, and none of it good or right.
Update: In a rather surprising article from CBS This Morning (surprising, in that this hasn’t come out earlier), it appears that is greater nuance to the sentence than suggested by earlier articles, the internet mob or, for that matter, me.
In a probation report obtained by CBS News, Brock Turner, a former Stanford swimmer convicted of sexual assault, apologized to his victim in a statement to the court and expressed remorse for his actions, saying: “I would give anything to change what happened that night… I made a mistake, I drank too much, and my decisions hurt someone.”
In an interview for the probation report last month, the victim herself said: “I want him to be punished, but as a human I just want him to get better… He doesn’t need to be behind bars.”
While the victim impact statement has been widely reported, that the victim didn’t want Turner incarcerated has not. This explains a lot, but coming well after the outrage of the six month sentence, will likely change little.