Older Than Her Age?

A Montana Judge's Messy Sentencing


By Attorney Melba Pearson
Special to THELAW.TV

A Montana judge is currently under fire for comments he made while sentencing a convicted rapist. Judge G. Todd Baugh sentenced a teacher, convicted of raping one of his students, to what amounts to 30 days in jail for violating the terms of his original plea. One of the reasons he gave for the low sentence was that he felt the 14 year old victim acted older than her age, and that she was as much in control of the situation as the teacher.

There are several parts to this story. First, there was the actual plea. Many folks may be troubled by the original plea, because on its face, it seems low. The defendant was sentenced (by this judge) to a sex offender rehabilitation program. However, the victim committed suicide while this case was pending in the court. The victim's mother said that the trauma of the rape caused her to take her own life at the age of 16. It would have been an uphill battle for prosecutors to proceed at trial without the victim. Even if she had lived, it is possible that a trial would have been even more horrible for the fragile young victim.

Ideally, the plea would have addressed the underlying issue that was causing this defendant to commit this crime. Unfortunately, that was not the case. The defendant violated his plea by having unsupervised visits with minors in his family, having sexual relations (with adult women), and not being honest with his program therapist. When going through sexual offender treatment, these are all no no's. The therapy addresses the underlying reasons why the crime happened; total honesty and abstinence is required until the program is completed. As a result, he was thrown out of the program. When prosecutors discovered this, they brought it to the court's attention since being booted out of the program was a violation of the plea agreement.

Which leads us to the sentence. Prosecutors asked for what amounted to 10 years, which reflected the fact that they believed he was not getting better. The judge sentenced him to 5 years, suspending all but 31 days, giving him credit for the one day he spent in jail. Since the judge suspended his sentence, he only has to serve 30 days. While the sentence may seem low, it may have been lawful. Judges have wide discretion on sentencing; they can look at prior criminal history, the severity of the crime, and potential to re-offend.

The most troubling of all is the judge's comments. He stated that the victim, aged 14, was equally in control of the situation as the 54-year-old offender. He has since apologized, but this statement shows a deeper held sentiment. There was a time where older men married girls barely out of puberty. One hundred years later, some people still feel that once a girl hits physical maturity, she is also emotionally mature. The law is clear on this. A minor under the age of 16 cannot give consent to sexual contact. Even if she said yes, it is still illegal for the man to proceed. On a wider scale, it is disturbing that someone who is tasked with protecting the public — a judge who knows the law — believes that the underage victim was at fault.

There will be repercussions for this judge. In all likelihood, he will not resign, and will not be removed from office since his sentence was probably lawful. However, although he apologized, he faces re-election next year. This comment may be the end of his judicial career.

The author, Melba Pearson, is a prosecutor in South Florida.