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Mont. Supreme Court Overturns Teacher's 30-Day Rape Sentence

By Brett Snider, Esq. on April 30, 2014 12:32 PM

The Montana Supreme Court has reversed a 30-day sentence for a convicted rapist teacher, sending the case back for sentencing with a new judge.

Ex-teacher Stacey Dean Rambold had been previously sentenced to only a month in jail for the rape of one of his former freshman students who later committed suicide. State attorneys argued that Rambold should have served the mandatory minimum of four years in prison, reports the Billings Gazette.

Why did Montana's highest court strike down Rambold's 30-day rape sentence?

Improper Sentence Determination

Criminal judges are often given wide discretion for determining sentences, but Rambold's trial judge overstepped his bounds. Judge G. Todd Baugh originally imposed a sentence of 15 years in prison for the convicted rapist, but Baugh suspended all but a month in jail.

This incredibly light rape sentence was arguably tied to Baugh's belief that the victim was "older than her chronological age" and was more in control of the situation, reports the Gazette.

In an opinion released on Wednesday, the Montana Supreme Court noted that Baugh's sentence was illegal in light of the state's mandatory minimum sentences for rape involving young victims. Montana law requires at least four years in prison for rape convicts when the victim is younger than 16 and the offender is four or more years older.

Since the law applied to Rambold's conviction, Baugh could not legally ignore it in giving Rambold a 30-day jail sentence.

Remanding Case to a Different Judge

While the Montana Supreme Court struck down Rambold's sentence as illegal, it would not resentence him. This case will be remanded to the trial court level for a judge to resentence Rambold.

However, Judge Baugh won't get a chance to correct his sentencing mistakes. Baugh issued a court order shortly after his sentencing decision attempting to undo the 30-day sentence, but it was too little too late. The Montana High Court noted that when media coverage and public outrage "have snowballed to create an appearance of impropriety," reassignment to a different judge is called for.

The media storm that followed Baugh's strange "chronological age" comments about the victim convinced the Montana Supreme Court that Baugh couldn't be involved in Rambold's resentencing. Preserving the appearance of justice and fairness demanded another judge.

It's uncertain how much prison time Rambold will receive before this new judge, but based on today's ruling, it will definitely be at least four years.

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