Mont. Appeals Teacher's 30-Day Rape Sentence

By Aditi Mukherji, JD on December 03, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Prosecutors are appealing the infamous Montana teacher rape case -- the one in which a teacher received a 30-day sentence for raping a 14-year-old student.

Stacey Dean Rambold, 47, was released in September after his short stint in jail, but his days of freedom may soon be numbered. The Montana Attorney General's Office filed its appeal with the state supreme court.

Appeal Filed as Expected

An appeal is a review of the trial court's application of the law. The basis of an appeal must be a reversible error in the application of the law at the trial court level.

In this case, the appeal only targets the sentencing portion of the lower court's decision without regard to the underlying rape conviction.

When District Judge G. Todd Baugh imposed the controversial one-month sentence on Rambold, he said teen victim Cherise Morales -- who committed suicide in 2010 -- "seemed older than her chronological age" and was "in control of the situation."

Prosecutors mentioned that statement in their recent appeal filing, reports USA Today. This is because Baugh's ruling rationale falls short of compliance with Montana's rape statutes.

Montana Rape Statutes

Despite Baugh's misogynistic victim-shaming beliefs, his ruling needed to fit within the state's rules on enhanced punishments. Montana's rape statutes impose enhanced punishments for offenders who rape victims under 16 years of age, and allows a judge to impose up to 100 years in prison for the crime.

Since Rambold was convicted of this kind of aggravated rape (as the victim was 14), Baugh could not have properly imposed a prison sentence of less than two years.

Getting Appeal Granted

Review in state supreme courts is discretionary. In general, the number of successful appeals is low. Courts will only overturn verdicts that contain clear, serious errors of law.

As we saw in the case of the Tennessee judge who didn't allow a baby to be named "Messiah," appellate courts regularly overturn the decisions of judges who put their personal beliefs in place of the law.

Because Baugh may have misapplied Montana law and supplanted precedent with his personal views, it's expected that an appeal will most likely be granted.

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