Judge Says 30 Day Rape Sentence May Be Illegal

The public was outraged after a former teacher accused of raping a 14-year-old student was sentenced to only 30 days in jail after pleading guilty to the offense. Now the Montana judge who levied the sentence is saying it may be illegal, and has ordered a new sentencing hearing. Stacey Dean Rambold, 54, admitted to having sex with 14-year-old Cherice Morales, who killed herself at the age of 16 when Rambold's criminal case went to trial in 2010. He was admitted to a sex offender treatment program in order to defer felony rape sentencing, but was kicked out in November for failing to comply with the rules of the program. Rambold was accused of having unsupervised visits with minors in the family, and he failed to disclose a sexual relationship with a woman to his counselors. Because he was kicked out of the program and could not successfully complete the terms of his probation, his sentencing was accelerated. Yellowstone County District Court Judge G. Todd Baugh found that the reasons for the expulsion from the program did not warrant the 10 year sentence recommended by prosecutors. Instead, he sentenced Rambold to 15 years in prison, with all but 31 days suspended and credit for one day served. Upon hearing the judge's sentence and derogatory comments about her daughter, the victim's mother stormed from the courtroom. Baugh has since apologized for his statements, which called the victim "older than her chronological age" and "as much in control of the situation" as the middle aged teacher who took advantage of her. He issued a statement saying, "Obviously, a 14-year-old can't consent. I think that people have in mind that this was some violent, forcible, horrible rape.It was horrible enough as it is, just given her age, but it wasn't this forcible beat-up rape. I don't know what I was thinking or trying to say. It was just stupid and wrong." In the aftermath of the questionable comments and sentencing, Baugh is now rethinking the sentence as well. The judge says that for Rambold's offense, the mandatory minimum sentence should be two years in prison. "In this court's opinion, imposing a sentence which suspends more than the mandatory minimum would be an illegal sentence," the judge said, and ordered a new sentencing hearing. The prosecuting attorney, however, says that the judge does not have the authority to change the sentence, arguing that state law requires an appeal of an illegal sentence. In Oklahoma, the opposite scenario occurred in a case involving a DHS worker's forcible sodomy conviction after engaging in oral sex with a 15-year-old girl in state custody. In that case, Tulsa County District Judge James Caputo sentenced Ronald J. Green II to two years in prison followed by eight years of probation. After mulling his sentence over a weekend, Caputo returned to vacate the sentence, instead giving Green a ten-year deferred sentence with no jail or prison time. Prosecutors say it is an illegal sentence, and that Caputo did not have the authority to vacate his own sentence.

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