In 2008, police and school officials learned that a Montana senior high school teacher, 49-year-old Stacey Dean Rambold, had engaged in a sexual relationship with one of his students when she was just 14 years old. He would be charged with three counts of sexual intercourse without consent in that same year. The case was pending when his victim, Cherice Morales, committed suicide just a few weeks before her 17th birthday.
Her mother testified that the abuse was a key factor in her death.
After her death, Rambold entered into an agreement with the prosecution where he admitted to one count of rape. Charges would be dismissed if he complied with conditions of the agreement, including completion of a sex offender treatment program. Rambold was terminated from the treatment program in November 2012 after it was learned he was having unsupervised visits with teenage relatives in violation of the agreement.
The next month, the prosecution reopened the case.
Earlier this week, Judge G. Todd Baugh sentenced Rambold to 15 years in prison after Rambold pleaded guilty in April to a single felony charge of rape. In a move that was met with outrage, Judge Baugh then suspended all but 31 days of his sentence and gave him credit for one day served.
Rambold is now serving thirty days in prison for the repeated rape of a 14-year-old girl.
According to the anti-sexual abuse network RAINN, there are more than 200,000 sexual assaults in the United States alone. More than half of these assaults are never reported. The fear and stigma associated with being a victim is overwhelming. For those that do find the courage to come forward, they are further victimized by a justice system that is sometimes filled with predators who continue to abuse them.
Judge Baugh’s sentencing is just the latest in judicial insensitivity.
In Chatsworth, Georgia, Angela Garmley was in a court regarding her sexual assault by three men when Judge Bryant Cochran requested to hear her side of the story in his chambers — privately. After sharing the details of the assault, Judge Cochran began sharing his own details – about his marriage and his desire for a mistress. He then proceeded to make requests of Ms. Garmley, including for her to return to his court in a few days wearing a dress – without underwear.
Garmley did not comply.
Instead, she filed a complaint with judicial authorities and publicly outed him in an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. A few days after the interview appeared in the paper, Garmley was arrested for drug possession after the driver of the car she was riding in was stopped for not having dimmed the bright lights. The officers searched the vehicle with a drug sniffing dog and crystal meth was found in a magnetic box attached to the car. The drug charges were dropped after an investigation discovered that Judge Cochran had enlisted the help of his handyman and the two arresting officers to frame Garmley in retaliation for filing the complaint.
Judge Cochran denied the charges, but later resigned from the bench. Andrea Garmley has a civil suit pending.
In August 2012, Monica Contreras was in Judge Patricia Doninger’s Las Vegas, Nevada court on a routine divorce matter. As Ms. Contreras was getting ready to leave, Marshal Ron Fox directed her into a nearby waiting room for a drug search. She never contested the drug search, even though there was no explanation or reason for him to do one. Contreras told him she would rather have a female officer in there as a witness. He refused.
Out of view of the court, Marshal Fox then instructed her to lift her shirt, and proceeded to touch her breasts and buttocks.
No drugs were found.
Upon returning to the courtroom, Contreras reported the incident to Judge Doninger — or at least she tried. She reiterated that she didn’t object to the unauthorized search but was offended that he did so without a witness. For more than four minutes, Contreras tried to explain what happened, in detail. Judge Doninger never once looked at her.
Marshal Fox then ordered Contreras to recant her story. When she refused, through tears, he ordered her to be handcuffed and taken into custody. She was taken to jail and her daughter was sent to foster care.
Judge Doninger said nothing.
Two months later, Contrearas filed a complaint with the Court Marshal Internal Affairs Department. After a six month investigation, where it was discovered the entire courtroom incident was caught in a harrowing video, the marshal was fired. Due to the public outcry, Judge Patricia Doninger was removed from the bench in July of this year.
Monica Contreras has also filed a civil suit.
In his sentencing of Rambold, Montana Judge Baugh said he considered the recorded statements of the victim, indicating the troubled teenager was “as much in control of the situation” as her rapist because she was “older than her chronological age.”
In the ensuing outrage, the judge issued a clarifying statement saying that of course a 14-year-old can’t consent, but this wasn’t a “forcible” or “violent” rape. He added that if Rambold hadn’t violated the terms of his agreement with the prosecutors he never would have served time. In other words, he wasn’t sentenced for rape, but for violating the terms of an agreement.
This is little consolation to Cherice Morales’ family, even if Rambold’s thirty day stint is more than most rapists serve. Nearly 97 percent never serve a day.
During an interview with CNN Auliea Hanlon, Cherice’s mother, was asked if she felt the judge should resign. She responded, “If he’s going to keep handing down sentences like that and making judgments on how old people act, then yeah.”
Judge Baugh is a publicly elected judge having served for almost 30 years, winning his first election in 1984.
He is up for reelection next year.
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