The recall in California’s Santa Clara County comes two years after Judge Aaron Persky dealt a lenient six-month sentence to Turner, a former Stanford swimmer, who had been convicted of sexual assault and attempted rape.
In 2015, Turner sexually assaulted an unconscious female student near a campus dumpster. The subsequent case sparked national outrage when the survivor published her court statement in full on BuzzFeed. Addressing Turner, she wrote, “You don’t know me, but you’ve been inside me, and that’s why we’re here today.”
Turner was found guilty of three felony charges for a maximum sentence of 14 years. But Persky, who said that “a prison sentence would have a severe impact on him,” ultimately sentenced Turner to six months. As reason for a lighter sentence, the probation report cited that Turner had already “surrendered a hard-earned swimming scholarship.” After serving three months, Turner was released for “good behavior.” (He also received three years of probation, was expelled from school, and was required to register as a sex offender.)
Persky and his supporters claim that the recall endangers judicial independence. But activists point out that Persky, also a former athlete at Stanford, has a history of favoring privileged athletes who have committed sexual assault and domestic violence. In one 2015 case criticized by even his supporters, Persky offered to greatly reduce the felony charge of an athlete, who had choked and beat his ex-girlfriend, to a misdemeanor. He also agreed to delay sentencing so the man could play football at the University of Hawaii.
Though Persky was cleared of official misconduct for the Turner case, California lawmakers responded by enacting mandatory minimum sentences in sexual assault cases and closing a loophole that allowed lighter punishment for penetrative sexual assault involving an intoxicated victim.