The Montana Supreme Court overturned a what was effectively a one-month jail sentence for rape on Wednesday, meaning that teacher Stacey Dean Rambold will have to be re-sentenced for his rape conviction. Rambold was awarded the astonishingly light — and probably illegal — sentence because Yellowstone County District Court Judge G. Todd Baugh thought the teacher's 14-year-old victim, one of his students, "seemed older than her chronological age" and was "as much in control of the situation" as her teacher was. Rambold's victim later committed suicide, as the case was pending in the courts.
In their decision, the high court found that statements made by Baugh at the original sentencing hearing "reflected an improper basis for his decision and cast serious doubt on the appearance of justice." The court ordered a new judge to re-sentence Rambold.
The decision is hardly a surprise, in part because even Judge Baugh later admitted that he probably made a mistake in giving Rambold such a short sentence. In September, Baugh attempted to set a hearing to re-sentence Rambold to what he now believed to be the mandatory minimum of two years in jail, but whoops! Baugh didn't actually have the legal authority to do so. As it turns out, Montana Attorney General Tim Fox argued before the state Supreme Court, Rambold's mandatory minimum after pleading guilty to sexual assault without consent should actually be four years. So maybe it's better for everyone that Rambold's re-sentencing had to come from a lengthy appeals process.
Today's Montana Supreme Court decision won't result in disciplinary action for Baugh, but that could be coming, as the AP reported: the Judicial Standards Commission has a pending disciplinary complaint with the state's high court. They'll handle it separately.
After admitting to the rape, Rambold was originally handed a 15-year sentence for the crime. Baugh reduced that sentence to just 31 days in jail — what he believed to be the minimum for the conviction — based in part on his opinion of the conduct of the victim. He even awarded the teacher one day for time served. Rambold was freed after spending the court-ordered 30 days in jail.