G. Todd Baugh, the district judge in Montana who drew public criticism for sentencing rapist Stacey Rambold to only 30 days incarceration, and for making inappropriate remarks about the victim in the case, has called for a new hearing to review whether the minimum mandated term in such a situation would be two years.
Although Baugh wrote that “in the Court’s opinion, imposing a sentence which suspends more than the mandatory minimum would be an illegal sentence,” and publicly apologized for his remarks about the victim, Cherice Morales, only 14 at the time of the crime. Calls for his resignation have not subsided.
Rambold was Morales’ teacher when he started an affair with his student and had three sexual encounters with the teen. Before the case was brought to trial, she committed suicide, which deprived the prosecution of their star witnesses. The prosecutors then opted for making a deal with Rambold wherein they would dismiss the three charges of sexual intercourse without consent against him, as long as he complied with certain directives, completing a sexual offender treatment program and having no contact with children among them. It was when Rambold broke those conditions, by attending a family function where children of relatives were present, and by not disclosing to his counselors in the program his relationships with adult women that he came before Baugh.
Baugh has said that he considered the hearing to be for a violation of the terms of the agreement between Rambold and the prosecutors and that he considered the offenses to be “more technical and not the kind you would send someone to prison for.” Of Morales, Baugh said at sentencing that she seemed “older than her chronological age,” and as much in control of the relationship as Rambold. Auliea Hanlon, Cherice’s mother, expressed her outrage at this through her attorney, in a statement saying that Morales “wasn’t even old enough to get a driver’s license; But Judge Baugh, who never met our daughter, justified the paltry sentence saying she was older than her chronological age. I guess somehow it makes a rape more acceptable if you blame the victim, even if she was only 14.”
Baugh met with Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito and Jay Lansing, Rambold’s attorney, last Friday to review the case. Baugh has said that the information he received stated that the minimum term for the charges filed is 30 days, and the prosecution did not object at sentencing. Twito, for his part has said that the shortest mandatory sentence for a case of statutory rape, such as this one, is 2 years and that he will file an appeal, which is not an insignificant factor in the matter.
Despite setting the new hearing for Friday, Baugh might be a buck short and a day late. Not only are there petitions with thousands of signatures asking him to resign, but, according to Twito, if the sentence is indeed illegal, it must be disputed through appeal which would bring unwanted attention from higher courts on Baugh and his remarks on the victim.
Baugh is up for reelection next year, so despite his efforts to review the decision of giving a rapist a sentence of only 30 days, and then vilifying the victim, the court of public opinion may soon judge him at the polls and find him wanting.
By Milton Ruiz