The Misguided, Misleading Comparisons of Raul Ramirez and Brock Turner
Various media have covered a purported new angle of the Judge Persky/Brock Turner saga: the allegedly similar case of a man named Raul Ramirez who will be sentenced by Judge Persky to 3 years state prison as part of a plea bargain for a sexual assault crime. Here's why this analysis and the headlines covering th Ramirez case are misleading and fueled by misinformation.
Various media have covered a purported new angle of the Judge Persky/Brock Turner saga: the allegedly similar case of a man named Raul Ramirez who will be sentenced by Judge Persky to 3 years state prison as part of a plea bargain for a sexual assault crime. Stanford Law Professor Michelle Dauber and other pundits have cited Mr. Ramirez's case and sentence, especially in comparison to the sentence imposed on Brock Turner, as further reasons why Judge Persky should be recalled orremoved from the bench. Here's why this analysis and the headlines covering this Ramirez case are misleading and fueled by misinformation.
- Raul Ramirez and Brock Turner were accused and convicted of different crimes with different penalty provisions. Raul Ramirez pled guilty to violating Penal Code Section 289(a) for forcible sexual penetration of his female roommate (I'm not sure if there were other charges too, but this appears to have been the most serious charge). This charge carries with it a sentencing range of 3, 6 or 8 years state prison. California law DOES NOT permit probation or anything less than 3 years prison for anyone, like Mr. Ramirez, convicted of this crime, regardless of whether the conviction occurs by guilty plea or after a jury trial. A judge must impose at least 3 years to anyone convicted of this offense.
On the other hand, Brock Turner was convicted of violating Penal Code Section 289(d), sexual penetration of an unconscious victim, Penal Code Section 289 (e), sexual penetration of an intoxicated person, and Penal Code Section 220(a), assault with intent to commit rape. The convictions for violating Penal Code Sections 289(d) and 289(e) were for the same conduct and therefore are punishable by 3, 6 or 8 years in state prison. The conviction for for violating Penal Code Section 220(a) is punishable by 2, 4 or 6 years state prison. Combine the two maximums (8 +6) and you get the 14 year maximum penalty that Brock Turner faced after a jury convicted him. California law DOES permit someone convicted of these crimes, like Mr. Turner, to receive probation and less than 2 or 3 years prison if a judge finds that it is an “unusual case where the interests of justice would be served if the person is granted probation.”
That all said, Judge Persky did have the legal authority and discretion to grant Mr. Turner probation and less than 2 or 3 years prison. Judge Persky did not have the same legal authority or discretion to give Mr. Ramirez anything less than 3 years prison, even if he wanted to.
- The law limits the ability of California judges to impact the sentences and outcomes of criminal cases before them. They do not control the charges. The District Attorney's Office chooses what charges to prosecute and seek convictions for. Judges generally do not have the ability to alter or circumvent those charges. In Mr. Ramirez's case, it was the Santa Clara County DA's office that chose to prosecute for violating Penal Code Section 289(a). Judge Persky, even if he desired, had no authority to dismiss or alter that charge so that Mr. Ramirez could receive a reduced penalty as opposed to the 3 year mandatory minimum prison term if such a reduced term was merited.
- Judges sometimes will “lean on” a prosecutor to dismiss certain charges so that lesser penalties can be imposed to encourage settlement of cases. Ultimately, though, these efforts to encourage settlement carry no legal weight; the DA still has the final say on what charges to pursue, not the judge. In Mr. Ramirez's case, it's not clear what role, if any, Judge Persky played in settlement discussions. Regardless, his actual authority to effect the outcome was limited by law.
- Mr. Ramirez's sentence was the product of a negotiated plea bargain between the District Attorney and Mr. Ramirez and his attorney. It does not appear to be the result of an offer by Judge Persky. Typically, in scenarios like this, the deal will be hashed out between the prosecutor and the defense attorney; once the client agrees, the attorneys will present the agreement to the judge to ratify. The judge's role in this process is relatively passive; almost like someone who officiates a wedding.
- We don't know the context of Mr. Ramirez's plea negotiations and guilty plea. He could have taken the deal because the evidence against him was great and because he was staring down the barrel of more serious charges and more prison time. 3 years might have been the best offer forthcoming from the DA.
- The articles covering this story note that Mr. Ramirez had “no criminal record of convictions for serious or violent felonies.” However, it is unclear if he had a criminal history of other non serious or violent felonies or misdemeanors that could have impacted the prosecutor and judge's view of him, his risk level and the appropriate outcome of the case. On the other hand, it is without question that Mr. Turner had no prior criminal convictions of any kind, which the Santa Clara County Probation Department and Judge Persky included in their analysis.
- Mr. Ramirez will receive 3 years state prison, serve his time and then be released on parole supervision. Mr. Turner, in contrast, is still subject to up to 14 years state prison if he violates his terms of probation. 6 months county jail with probation isn't the end of his story in terms of incarceration. If Mr. Turner commits a new crime or doesn't comply with probation, the hammer will drop on him and he will be sentenced to a prison term of up to 14 years.
- Comparing the cases and outcomes of Mr. Ramirez and Mr. Turner is like comparing apples and oranges; they're different people, their cases were unique, the charges distinct. Attributing the variations in their cases to Judge Persky and insinuating that the disparities in the outcomes result from Judge Persky's racial or class bias is misguided, inflammatory and inappropriate.