Brock Allen Turner is the former Stanford University athlete who perpetrated a depraved sexual act on an unconscious young woman who was impaired by alcohol at the time. He was given a sentence of a mere six months in jail for this.
Now, Stuart Taylor, a legal scholar and nonresident fellow at Brookings, and KC Johnson, a professor at Brooklyn College and CUNY Graduate Center, have weighed in on the case.
The gist of what they argue: the sentence was too short, but the system worked.
Taylor and Johnson are experts on due process, campus sexual assault and allegations of misconduct and are the authors of Until Proven Innocent, a study of the Duke Lacrosse scandal.
Taylor and Johnson write:
Two students saw Turner on top of the victim, rushed to her aid and restrained the intoxicated Turner. Police were called and found the now 23-year-old victim “completely unresponsive” and partially clothed. They interviewed the witnesses and secured physical and medical evidence. Prosecutors won a jury conviction of Turner, now 20, for sexual penetration of the victim with his fingers. They asked Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky for a six-year state prison sentence.
We understand the victim’s pain and outrage at the leniency of the judge’s sentence — six months in a county jail, plus three years probation and lifetime registration as a sex offender. But we also understand how much better the criminal-justice system operated than the alternative likely would have.
Campus activists at Stanford and nationwide have championed secretive disciplinary processes run by administrators who know little about gathering evidence (or about fair procedures). Indeed, had this case been initially channeled through the school, critical evidence — including Turner’s highly incriminating statement to police — might have been lost.
The Obama administration now requires schools to use the lightest possible burden of proving guilt — by a mere preponderance of the evidence — in handling sexual assault cases. The procedural rules are systematically slanted against the accused. And accusers are not subject to meaningful cross-examination, which the Supreme Court has called “the greatest legal engine ever invented for the discovery of truth.”
The result has been the expulsion as sex offenders of many innocent or probably innocent students — in dozens of cases that we have studied — as well as guilty ones. The innocent face lives ruined by terrible injustice. The guilty often go free, expelled from school but walking the streets having faced no criminal penalty at all. Such outcomes do less to make campuses safe than would the robust law enforcement presence that accusers’ rights activists and university leaders oppose and that brought Turner to justice.
Stanford’s disciplinary process for sexual assault accusations prevents the accused and his representative from cross-examining the accuser or any other witnesses. Adjudicators have been trained that an accused student’s acting “persuasive and logical” should be considered a sign of his guilt, and warned to be “very, very cautious in accepting a man’s claim that he has been wrongly accused of abuse or violence.”
Taylor and Johnson report that the outcry over Turner's sentence is being used by a movement to delegitimize law enforcement as the best way to deal with campus sexual assault. This movement has, the authors note, long relied on discredited surveys and other information to claim that there is a "rape culture" on college campuses and that tribunals, which often deny due process to the accused, not law enforcement, are the way to deal with this.
Brock Allen Turner was found guilty and, yes, his light sentence is an outrage. But his behavior does not prove the skewed survey figures cited by the Obama administration and allies.