“There are rape cases that deserve life. There are rape cases that deserve 20 years. Every now and then you have one of those that deserve probation. This is one of those and I stand by it.”
—-Texas District Judge Jeanine Howard explaining her stunningly lenient sentence of probation and community service—“250 hours of community service at a rape crisis center” !—for a confessed rapist of a 14-year old girl at her school.
The sentence was not merely lenient but probably illegal, and a it seems likely that the sentence will be altered by another judge. Nonetheless, this kind of result, based on the judge’s assessment that the victim was promiscuous and had been pregnant (which she denies) will certainly make other rape victims think twice before they report the crime. Bobby Villareal, executive director of the Dallas Area Rape Crisis Center, told reporters…
“This is an example of why people don’t come forward and report their sexual assaults because they are not only victimized at the time but the continuing game of shame and blame. They are put on trial again in the judiciary and the media. The things that were said were outrageous and some of them were actually untrue that were reported.”
Judge Howard seemed to be making up the law and sentencing guidelines on the fly. The rapist, 20-year old Sir Young, never denied that he had raped the girl, or that she hadn’t strenuously told him to stop. “Consent is not an issue and it wasn’t an issue because he admitted he didn’t have her consent,” prosecutor Andrea Moseley said. “When consent is not an issue, a victim’s past is never appropriate for comment. That’s my problem with it as a woman and as a prosecutor. I was certainly disappointed in the message I think it sends to the community.”
The community can send a message back, as Judge Howard is up for re-election in the fall, but it won’t be easy. A Democrat, she is running unopposed.
I try to avoid posting on episodes where there should be no disagreement, but another factor is at play here. Before the 24 hour news cycle and the internet, horrible sentences like this one, and irresponsible and unethical judges like Howard—yes, this is signature significance-–would never be reported nationally, and the likelihood of consequences and reform would be minimal. Now, however, the same conditions that create the ethics issues I often condemn, such as mass public furor being disproportionately focused on individual, private mistakes that once would have received no attention at all, scarring lives and reputations, provide a measurable societal benefit. This was an official act by a woman who is supposed to be upholding justice, not undermining it. She deserves to be hounded from the bench, and if voters won’t do it, the rest of us should.