The Persky Rape Case You Didn’t Hear About

Judge Aaron Persky of Santa Clara County is not having a good year. After handing out a shockingly lenient sentence to a white Stanford athlete convicted of rape, Persky was widely accused of exercising favoritism, promoting rape culture and being unfit for the bench.

Whether recall attempts are successful or not, it’s highly probable that Persky won’t be reelected the next time he’s on the ballot. Technically, he’s up for reelection this year, but because no opponents came forward, he won’t be listed, treated instead as the automatic winner.

And now, the other shoe has dropped.

Suggestions that racial bias may have played a role in his decision have been validated by the news that he oversaw a plea deal in March for a very similar case. Persky negotiated a three year sentence for the defendant, who just happens to be Latino.

One case involved a wealthy, privileged white man with whom Judge Persky obviously felt a personal connection. Despite the fact that Brock Turner refused to apologize for his crime or acknowledge the harm he’d done — sticking to claims that the case was about “drinking culture” — the judge decided to ignore the recommendation for a six year sentence. Persky opted instead for six months — three, with good behavior.

The victim, the jury and almost every reasonable person was shocked and horrified by the circumstances of the case. Turner appeared to get a pass for rape because he was the right kind of perpetrator: a nice white boy.

The March case involved Raul Ramirez, a Salvadoran immigrant who used an interpreter in the courtroom due to his limited English skills. Like Turner, Ramirez digitally penetrated his victim, entering her bedroom and attacking her for between five and 10 minutes while she cried and asked him to stop.

Unlike Turner, Ramirez is poor, yet his bail was set paradoxically higher than Turner’s reported $150,000. Ramirez also expressed remorse for the crime, saying that he understood he had done something wrong and wanted to apologize.

Judge Persky, however, seemed to feel that nothing about the case was “exceptional,” and plopped him in prison for three years — after all, who cares if another Latino goes to jail.

The racial bias here is so unmistakeable that some former supporters of Judge Persky even admitted that there was a clear problem. It also fell in line with historic trends when it comes to race and the justice system: People of color are more likely to be profiled and dragged into court in the first place and more likely to receive harsh sentences.

Turner got the velvet glove treatment, and he wasn’t even ordered to make a meaningful apology to his victim. Ramirez received no such considerations.

Cases like these are extremely complicated. While many people’s gut response to the Turner sentence was to scream with outrage about how short the sentence was, those protests create a slippery slope. These sorts of attitudes lead to sentences like the one Ramirez received and make reasonable judges afraid to use their discretion.

One unintended consequence of the Persky case may be harsh sentences across the board, including in inevitable cases where people of color are falsely accused.

What the Turner and Ramirez cases really highlight is that racial bias is a huge problem in the justice system. Judges cannot always be trusted to weigh all the facts of the case and come up with a just sentence, so we need to have an honest conversation about how to handle criminal cases.

Both cases inadvertently illustrate the value of restorative justice, an approach to justice that centers on victims and the desire to meet their needs, rather than a response to crime that simply penalizes offenders with harsh sentences.

The United States has a punitive justice system based on the use of prison as punishment, unlike some other nations. In Norway, for instance, the primary goal of a case is to establish guilt and then offer restitution to the victim.

Ramirez’s desire to acknowledge harm and apologize fits within a restorative justice framework, by allowing his victim to see that he experiences remorse and wants to be held accountable for his crime.

Meanwhile, Turner’s case illustrates what happens when restorative justice isn’t at the heart of discussions about sentencing. He hasn’t apologized to his victim or attempted to provide restitution. And Turner’s victim experienced the slap in the face of hearing that her rape was apparently less important than his athletic and academic history.

Hopefully Judge Persky won’t be on the bench much longer; he was already pulled off a rape case due to concerns about bias. But maybe this situation will provide an opportunity for more than just calls for mandatory sentencing.

Perhaps it’s time to explore restorative justice, which has a lower incidence of recidivism and higher rates of victim satisfaction.

Photo credit: Beth Cortez-Neavel

381 comments

Jack Y
Jack Y8 months ago

thanks

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Jack Y
Jack Y8 months ago

thanks

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John J
John J8 months ago

thanks for sharing

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John J
John J8 months ago

thanks for sharing

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Christine J
Christine J1 years ago

Seriously? You are worried about harsher sentences? That's fine with me. And as for Ramirez's desire to apologise; too little, too late. Here's a novel idea; don't sexually assault someone, and then you won't have to apologise.

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Jim Ven
Jim Ven2 years ago

thanks for sharing.

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Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill2 years ago

I think both sentences are appalling! Any one convicted of rape should be executed!

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Valerie A.
Valerie A2 years ago

thanks

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