Ex-Stanford Swimmer Gets Light Sex Assault Sentence

By Ephrat Livni, Esq. on June 07, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A Stanford University swimmer who was planning to compete in the Olympics will be spending the next few months in county jail, the next few years on probation, and the rest of his life on the sex offender registry. But as bad as that sounds, the defendant, Brock Turner, received a light sentence given the severity of his crimes.

Turner, 20, was convicted in March of three felony counts for his January, 2015 assault on a passed-out drunk woman on the Stanford campus outside of a frat party. This week he was sentenced for the charges, which were assault with intent to commit rape of an intoxicated person and two counts of sexually penetrating an unconscious person with a foreign object, reports the San Jose Mercury News.

The Incident

Turner's victim was a former college student who had attended a party with friends. After drinking too much, she was reportedly passed out when two Swedish Stanford students passed by; they spotted Turner thrusting himself onto her on the ground. They chased Turner and called the police and the victim woke up hours later on a hospital gurney.

She testified at the hearing about her difficulties since the incident, including being alienated, depressed, and having to quit her job due to emotional issues. The victim insisted that a probation sentence for Turner was unacceptable and the judge seemed to hear that, sending Turner to jail, putting him on probation, and ensuring that his sex offender status will remain with him by forcing him to register.

Sentencing Considerations

Turner could have spent up to six years in prison on the charges but was given six months in the county jail. The sentence recognizes his lack of criminal record and positive testimony about his quality of character. According to reports, the victim -- who was surrounded by friends and family in the courtroom -- appeared stoic as Turner's relatively light sentence was announced. He was remanded to county jail after the hearing and can be released in three months for good behavior.

Santa Clara Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky acknowledged the difficulty of his job, trying to balance the jury's verdict, the information that came to light during the trial, and sentencing memos filed by both sides that included character witnesses for Turner. "The trial is a search for the truth," Persky said. "It's an imperfect process."

Considering Imperfection

It is imperfect indeed, an imperfect process in an imperfect system. While it is true that Turner was a promising youth with no criminal past, shouldn't we expect more from an athlete at Stanford than we do kids with no privilege? This case demonstrates how the criminal justice system favors those who already have a lot.

It rewards a sense of entitlement by making punishments for the privileged less harsh in part because they have more to lose than poor kids. Plus, it gives those who got the best chances to begin with, the best second chances.


If you have been accused of a crime, talk to a lawyer and start working on your defense. Many attorneys consult for free or a minimal fee and will be happy to assess your case.

Editor's note, May 8, 2016: This article originally stated that the victim was a current student. However, she was a former student at the time of the incident.

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