Montana Supreme Court Orders New Sentence for Teacher Given 30-Day Sentence in Rape Case

On Thursday, the Montana Supreme Court unanimously ruled the one-month sentence given to a former Billings Senior High teacher who raped a former student was too short and ordered the case assigned to a new judge for re-sentencing.

Last fall, Yellowstone County District Court Judge G. Todd Baugh departed from the state’s mandatory minimum guidelines and sentenced Stacey Dean Rambold to 15 years in prison, with all but 31 days suspended and with credit for one day previously served. Rambold had admitted to raping a 14-year-old female student who later committed suicide, and yet the sentence meant he was ordered to serve only 30 days in jail. In explaining the sentencing decision, Judge Baugh said he believed that the victim in the case was complicit and partially to blame for the assault. Baugh said at the hearing that the victim was “as much in control of the situation” as Rambold was and described the girl as “older than her chronological age.” Baugh’s comments and the sentence sparked international outrage, spurring Baugh to apologize for his comments. Baugh tried to hold a hearing to re-sentence Rambold, but the Montana Supreme Court blocked that hearing so it could consider the appeal of Rambold’s original sentence.

In reversing Baugh’s sentencing decision, the unanimous court cited his offensive remarks as “reflecting an improper basis” for the decision that “cast serious doubt on the appearance of justice.” The court continued:

The idea that C.M. could have “control” of the situation is directly at odds with the law, which holds that a youth is incapable of consent and, therefore, lacks any control over the situation whatsoever. That statement also disregards the serious power disparity that exists between an adult teacher and his minor pupil. In addition, there is no basis in the law for the court’s distinction between the victim’s “chronological age” and the court’s perception of her maturity.

The Montana Supreme Court did not specify a new sentence for Rambold, but under Montana law he must serve a minimum of two years in prison.

Baugh still faces disciplinary action as a result of his statements from the bench. Last fall, several advocacy groups and private citizens filed formal complaints against the judge, which led to the state’s Judicial Standards Commission formally recommending disciplinary action. That formal disciplinary complaint is still pending with the Montana Supreme Court.

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