NEW YORK - Nearly one million people have signed a Change.org petition to recall Judge Aaron Persky, the California judge who sentenced ex-Stanford swimmer Brock Turner to six months in jail after a sex assault conviction. But Santa Clara public defender Sajid Khan thinks Judge Persky's decision was fair.
"The sentence Judge Persky imposed upon Mr. Turner is exactly what I would want for a client of mine under similar circumstances," wrote Khan on his blog, which was re-posted on the National Association for Public Defense website.
Khan says he was moved to write the blog post after seeing "a stream of Facebook posts" about recalling the judge.
"I wanted to provide a counter-argument to this train of vitriol that the judge was facing," Kahn told CBS News' Crimesider.
Turner was convicted of three felonies for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman in January 2015. The prosecution recommended he serve prison time, but Judge Persky sentenced him to six months in jail, stating that prison would "have a severe impact on him." Persky also mandated Turner register as a sex offender. The case has received international attention thanks, in part, to the eloquent, harrowing statement the victim read in court detailing the impact the assault has had on her.
In his blog, Kahn points out that Turner will have to register as a sex offender and is now a felon, both brands he will carry for the rest of his life. Ohio State University Professor Douglas Berman calls these alone "severe punishment."
"Even if he had gotten the six years in prison the prosecutor recommended, that part of his sentence would be over before he was 30," says Berman, who specializes in criminal sentencing. "The enduring residue for him is a lifetime on the sex offender registry. Brock Turner's life is damaged in a different way [than the victim's], but a very significant way."
Both Kahn and Berman point out the apparent irony that at a time when many are decrying mandatory minimum sentences, over-incarceration, and lack of understanding about the development of the adolescent brain, the fact that a judge - who was formerly a prosecutor - took a defendant's age and lack of a criminal record into account in deciding his punishment has sparked nearly universal outrage.
"The culture of mass incarceration has warped our psyches into thinking that lengthy jail or prison terms are always the answer to criminal behaviors like rape," writes Kahn. "They're not."
Much of the outrage surrounding Turner's sentence has centered on the idea that he may have received special consideration because he is white and was a student athlete at the same prestigious university Judge Persky attended. Some have compared his case to that of Cory Batey, the black former Vanderbilt football player convicted of the 2013 rape of an unconscious woman. Batey faces 15-25 years in prison when he is sentenced in July.
Khan questions the assumption that Turner's race and relative affluence played into Judge Persky's decision. He writes that no one has provided an example of the judge giving a harsher sentence to a minority defendant accused of a similar crime.
Khan's colleague, Santa Clara public defender Gary Goodman, told Crimesider that he also thinks Judge Persky handed down a fair sentence.
"There are never two cases that are exactly the same," says Goodman, who has been with the public defender's office since 1990 and routinely appears before Judge Persky. "But I guarantee you that one of my indigent clients would have gotten a similar sentence."
According to the San Jose Mercury News, it wasn't just Judge Persky who examined the facts of the case and determined prison time was not warranted - he was actually following the recommendation of the county probation department, which, Berman explains, "has experience looking at a range of cases and having a feel for norms."
The Santa Clara County Probation Department did not immediately return CBS News' request for comment on their report.
Berman says there is no real way to judge whether Turner's sentence is particularly light as compared with similar sexual assault cases across the country because of lack of data on sexual assault sentencing.
What is more of an outlier than the sentence, Berman says, is the public outcry, likely tied at least in part to the victim's statement - matched with a statement from Turner's father decried as "tone deaf," and Turner's own statement to probation officials in which he blames his behavior on alcohol and the "college lifestyle."
In her statement, which has gone viral, the victim calls on Turner to take responsibility for his actions, telling him, "assault is not an accident." Most victims, Berman points out, don't ever have their voices heard in such a manner.
Since posting his column, Kahn says he's received a mix of positive and negative response - with some people thanking him for providing a different perspective on the case, and some calling for him to be disbarred and accusing him of perpetuating rape culture.
Poe, the chairman of the Congressional Victim's Rights Caucus and himself a former judge and prosecutor, said, "The punishment for rape should be longer than a semester of college."
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