Nothing but vilification has taken place since Judge Aaron Persky of Santa Clara County declared his decision in the case involving Stanford Swimmer Brock Turner. Widespread outrage permeated the country, recall efforts have began to rid Judge Persky of his position, and mainstream media outlets, as well as TCC, have implied injustice and bias within this court case.
The information regarding Turner’s assault in 2015 does not seem to be disputable: “Two students saw Turner on top of the victim, rushed to her aid and restrained the intoxicated Turner. Police were called and found the now 23-year-old victim “completely unresponsive” and partially clothed. They interviewed the witnesses and secured physical and medical evidence. Prosecutors won a jury conviction of Turner, now 20, for sexual penetration of the victim with his fingers.” The idea that justice has not been served, however, is a misguided belief. Far too often, our generation incorrectly equates a case’s outcome with the level of justice achieved within that case. Justice is related to the procedures used to reach a verdict; it is not solely dependent upon the verdict itself. While I wholeheartedly agree that Judge Persky’s decision appears to be too lenient, we must not use this case to bash a justice system that has done its job. In order to understand this alternative view, we have to understand what the alternative adjudication procedures would have been had Turner’s case not gone through the Santa Clara County court system.
Had Turner’s case gone through Stanford’s disciplinary procedures alone, an accurate fact finding mission with due process attributed to both parties involved would not have been conducted. Such a conclusion can safely be reached as a result of many factors: the Obama administration has required schools to adopt the lowest possible standard of evaluating guilt in campus sexual assault hearings; parties involved in such campus hearings are not subjected to meaningful cross-examination; and Stanford administrators use training materials for on campus adjudicators that create institutionalized impartial decision makers in such cases. This is what injustice looks like. As a result of these shoddy procedures, two possibilities are bound to arise even when the desired outcome of sexual assault cases (severe punishment) is achieved. Due to the inaccuracy of these hearings’ means of fact finding, innocent students can have their lives ruined, or guilty students can walk straight off campus free from criminal penalties. Regardless of the outcome, true justice cannot be served due to the procedures used within these campus cases.
Contrast Stanford’s policies with those used in the Santa Clara County court system: “The defendant was presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. He had a lawyer who could test the credibility of all witnesses, a right to exculpatory evidence, an impartial jury of his peers and other protections against wrongful conviction. The public nature of the trial provided a check against misconduct, either by law enforcement or by the university.” Despite ill-founded cries of bias levied against Judge Persky, his sentence was based on the recommendation of the probation office, which is customary practice. Unless we are willing to accuse those working within the probation office of also having pro-athlete inclinations that distorted their findings, an assertion that can only be made with anti-criminal justice system prejudices, no such criticism ought to be taken seriously.
In the end, the punishment of Brock Turner could have been decided through three different courses of action. No charges could have been pressed, his punishment could have been exclusively decided upon by Stanford, or his case could have been heard and decided upon by the Santa Clara County court system. While I agree his sentencing seems too short, his punishment could not have been decided upon through any better means. If we as a society cannot find justice in how this case played out, then we drastically need to reevaluate how we define that term.