Montana Rapist Finally Receives Appropriate Sentence

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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Legal Momentum previously reported (see here and here) on our involvement in the case of Montana rapist Stacy Rambold, which drew international attention because of the one-month prison sentence that Judge G. Todd Baugh imposed on the 42-year old teacher, who raped a 14-year-old student who later killed herself.  Judge Baugh also made appalling comments about the victim, saying she “looked older than her years “and “was as much in control of the situation" as the rapist. Legal Momentum joined others in calling for censure of the judge and re-sentencing by filing a censure petition against the judge—which resulted in the Montana Supreme Court taking action—and then an amicus brief in support of the Montana Attorney General’s appeal of the illegally lenient sentence.

We are pleased to report that a new judge has re-sentenced Rambold to 15 years with five years suspended.  If he violates his probation conditions during the suspension period he will have to serve the five years as well.

Rambold’s and his lawyer’s words and actions during the appeal process continue to underscore important issues around sexual assault and the language used to discuss it. Prior to sentencing, Rambold sent the judge a letter expressing remorse in an apparent bid for leniency. In the letter, Rambold claims to have “completed the sex offender program.” In fact, he was terminated from one program for missing too many sessions, and the one he completed lasted only four months, making it implausible that he could have been fully rehabilitated. Indeed it is clear that he was not. According to his probation officer Rambold violated the terms of his probation while the sentencing appeal was pending by, for example, searching the internet for local massage parlors. In court filings, Rambold’s counsel made matters worse by making new statements blaming the victim, which were later struck out by the new judge.

While this notorious case has finally come to a fair conclusion, the attitudes it epitomizes are still all too common in our justice system and throughout society. It is critically important that we use appropriate language about sexual assault. The language of consensual sex and using phrases such as “engaged in sexual activity” instead of “rape” suggests that both parties were willing participants, diminishing the crime and the victim’s experience. Legal Momentum’s National Judicial Education Program has developed a training module, Raped or “Seduced”? How Language Helps Shape Our Response to Sexual Violence, that is appropriate for a wide range of audiences.