A Montana district court judge now believes that he might have handed down an illegal sentence in the case of Stacey Rambold, a former teacher who admitted to having sexual intercourse with a 14-year-old student. Judge G. Todd Baugh had effectively ordered Rambold to serve 30 days in prison, drawing outrage from around the country for his perceived leniency. Baugh has called a new hearing in the case, noting that state law appears to require a minimum of two years.
Baugh sentenced Rambold to a 15-year term for felony rape, with all but 31 days suspended and one day for credit. “In the Court’s opinion, imposing a sentence which suspends more than the mandatory minimum would be an illegal sentence,” Baugh wrote.
Baugh also drew criticism for his comments at the sentencing, which seemed to minimize Rambold’s confessed crime. Baugh said that the victim, who later killed herself before the case went to trial, “was older than her chronological age” at the time and was “as much in control of the situation” as Rambold. He later apologized for those comments. Rambold’s legal prospects at this point are unclear:
Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito said Baugh may lack authority to impose a longer sentence at this point. That’s because state law says an illegal sentence must be handled through the appeal process. . . .
Twito said last week that he was considering an appeal, and cited the two-year mandatory minimum requirement as grounds. He said he planned to be in Baugh’s courtroom Friday but was unsure how the hearing might play out under the law.
“I’ve done this a long time and I’m in an area I have not been in before,” said Twito, now in his 16th year as a prosecutor.
If his reading of the law stands up, that could give the defendant the advantage in Friday’s hearing.
Twito said members of his office, along with Rambold’s defense attorney, Jay Lansing, met informally with Baugh last week to discuss the case.
Baugh said in Tuesday’s order that the defendant’s pre-sentencing memorandum claimed the minimum mandatory for sexual intercourse without consent was 30 days, and the state did not object until after the sentence had been handed down.
Lansing could not be immediately reached for comment.
Twito said his office will continue to pursue a possible appeal if the sentence remains unchanged. A final decision would be made in conjunction with the appellate division of the Montana attorney general’s office.
The Washington Post’s editorial board joined with others in calling for Baugh to resign:
So ill-suited is this judge to serve on the bench that, if he refuses the mounting calls for his resignation, Montana authorities should take the necessary action to remove him. . . .
The sentence in the 2008 case came after prosecutors refiled charges because Mr. Rambold failed to meet sex-offender treatment requirements and other conditions in an original plea deal. Prosecutors asked Judge Baugh to sentence Mr. Rambold to 20 years, with 10 years suspended; the girl’s mother, who testified that the rape was a major factor in her daughter’s 2010 suicide, pleaded for a prison sentence. The mother stormed from the courtroom when the sentence was announced, later issuing a statement that gave poignant testimony to the fallacy of blaming the victim: “She wasn’t even old enough to get a driver’s license.”
“I’m not sure just what I was attempting to say, but it did not come out correct,” the judge said in a mea culpa issued to the Billings Gazette on Wednesday. He said he would file an addendum to the court file to “hopefully better explain the sentence.” Actually, Montana residents, along with much of the nation, know all they need to know about this case and this judge. His parsing of the sexual exploitation of a troubled teenager by a teacher in a position of trust as not a “forcible, beat-up rape” — and his sentence of a mere 30 days — sent the message that this is a crime that is not to be taken all that seriously. Judge Baugh’s ignorant notions about rape and his insensitivity to victims are an absolute affront to justice, and he should immediately resign.
For past coverage of this case, continue reading here.
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