The sentence of one month in prison that was imposed upon former Billings high school business teacher Stacey Rambold, 47 at the time, for the 2007 rape of a 14-year-old student has been overturned by the Montana state Supreme Court. The initial prison term was handed down by district Judge G. Todd Baugh, 72, and caused an outcry among women’s groups nationwide as well as efforts to unseat him. The victim of the assault, Cherice Moralez, committed suicide in 2010. The ex-teacher now faces what is sure to be a much harsher sentence by a new judge.
While sentencing Rambold, Baugh offered his reasoning for the light sentence as being due to the fact that Moralez appeared to be older than 14 and was savvy enough to be “as much in control of the situation” as Rambold. The high court of Montana, however, did not agree with the lenient sentence, which was handed down as a sentence of 15 years with one day’s credit for time served and 31 days suspended, resulting in a prison stay of just 30 days for the rape of a 14-year-old girl.
In its ruling, Montana’s Supreme Court referenced a state statute that requires no less than four years in prison for anyone convicted of raping somebody under 16 years of age. The law also states that a maximum of two years of the sentence can be suspended. Six justices unanimously ruled to overturn the sentence based on the referenced state law, and a new judge has been named to re-sentence Baugh under the proper state guidelines. After Baugh’s sentence, the Montana Judicial Standards Commission recommended that the state high court discipline Baugh. The state Supreme Court noted in today’s decision that the ruling on whether to unseat Baugh or not would be made later. Baugh plans on retiring at the end of the year and has not responded to today’s decision, but in the past has stated that he deserves some sort of public reprimand or censure for his actions. The attorney representing Moralez’ mother also did not comment.
In 2008, authorities filed charges against Stacey Rambold for three counts of sexual intercourse without consent after he sexually assaulted Moralez at his home. The case against the former teacher was largely based on the testimony of the victim, who committed suicide in 2010 before the case went to trial, leaving the prosecution with a much weaker case and forcing them to make a plea deal with Rambold. As part of the deal, Rambold pleaded guilty to one count of sexual intercourse without consent and agreed to complete treatment for sex offenders. State attorneys then agreed that the rape case would be postponed and ultimately dismissed as long as he successfully completed the treatment. Rambold was ultimately expelled from the program for not revealing that he was having a sexual relationship with an of-age woman as well as visiting with his relatives’ children without the authorization to do so, at which time Montana prosecutors prepared to ask for 20 years in prison with 10 years suspended.
The president of the Montana chapter for N.O.W. expressed her pleasure over today’s ruling, saying, “It sends a clear message to the judiciary that women in Montana and women across the nation will not stand for the injustice and misconduct that ensued in this case and which in all likelihood have caused the mishandling of rape cases elsewhere.”
Stacey Rambold is expected to remain free while he awaits the new sentencing decided upon by the Montana Supreme Court, which is expected to take at least 30 days to prepare. He was released from prison last fall after serving his initial 30-day sentence for the rape of Moralez and is currently on probation until 2028.
By Jennifer Pfalz