Judge Aaron Persky, who drew outrage by sentencing a former Stanford swimmer to six months in jail for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman, has been removed from an upcoming sexual assault case.
The Santa Clara County Office of the District Attorney confirmed Tuesday to BuzzFeed News that Persky will not preside over an upcoming preliminary hearing of a male nurse accused of sexually assaulting a woman under anesthesia. Persky was removed from the case after the district attorney's office questioned the judge's ability to be fair.
District Attorney Jeffrey Rosen said that while his office has the right to ask for a case to be reassigned to another judge, he did not do so lightly.
"This is a rare and carefully considered step for our Office," Rosen said in a statement. "In the future, we will evaluate each case on its own merits and decide if we should use our legal right to ask for another judge in order to protect public safety and pursue justice."
Persky's sentencing earlier this month of former Stanford freshman Brock Turner drew national attention for its leniency. State guidelines suggest the minimum sentence should have been two years, and Turner could have faced up to 14 years in prison. Instead, Persky sentenced Turner to six months.
According to a court transcript, Persky said he reached his decision in part because of his belief that Turner had "genuine" remorse for the crime as well as character letters written by his family and friends.
"I think … you have to take the whole picture in terms of what impact imprisonment has on a specific individual’s life," Persky said at the time.
The victim was unconscious at the time of the sexual assault, and wrote in a powerful letter about the impact the crime had on her.
"I was not only told that I was assaulted, I was told that because I couldn’t remember, I technically could not prove it was unwanted. And that distorted me, damaged me, almost broke me," she wrote.
With recent events around the Turner case as well as the dismissal of a misdemeanor possession of stolen property case, the district attorney's office said they lacked confidence in Persky's ability to participate in the hearing involving another unconscious victim of a sexual assault.
In the misdemeanor case, Persky dismissed charges against a woman accused of stealing mail, said Jim Leonard, supervising deputy district attorney in the central misdemeanor division.
Judges may dismiss cases if they don't believe there's any evidence that would lead a jury to a conviction, but it happens rarely, Leonard explained. In this case, prosecutors showed that the woman was in possession of opened envelopes containing promotional credit card checks that did not belong to her, he said. The rightful owners of the mail also testified they did not give the woman permission to take their mail.
"We're disappointed he didn't allow a jury to do its job and deliberate," Leonard said.
"We have a lack of confidence in his judgment at this point."
Claudia Koerner is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
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