clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Rapist who got 1 month because victim "seemed older" than 14 gets new, longer sentence

The gavel got lowered in Billings. Again.
The gavel got lowered in Billings. Again.

Last year, Montana teacher Stacey Dean Rambold was convicted of "sexual intercourse without consent" for raping a 14-year-old student who later committed suicide. But he only had to spend a month in prison for the crime, thanks to a judge who blamed his victim for getting raped — saying the victim "seemed older than her chronological age" and that she could have been "just as much in control" as her rapist.

The case spurred a national outcry, and this week, Montana tried again. This time, Rambold got a 10-year prison sentence.

Most of the time, sentencing someone twice because he didn't spend enough time in jail the first time around would be unconstitutional. But because the judge actually violated Montana law when he sentenced Rambold last year, the case had to go through sentencing again. Meanwhile, the judge who issued the lenient sentence last year has been censured, but his only punishment is essentially that he has to retire a month early.

Here's how the Rambold case developed:

2007: Rambold repeatedly rapes Cherice Moralez, a 14-year-old student of his.

2008: Moralez tells another teenager in her church group about the rape. When the friend tells Moralez' mother, she reports the rape to the police. Rambold is charged by Yellowstone County prosecutors with three counts of sexual intercourse without consent.

2010: Moralez kills herself two weeks before her 17th birthday. According to CNN, Moralez had been "ostracized and bullied" after word had gotten out about the rape.

Prosecutors think it will be harder to bring Rambold to trial and convict him now that his victim won't be able to testify against him. So they offer him an agreement: if he completes a three-year counseling program for sex offenders without violating any of the program's requirements, they'll dismiss the charges. Rambold accepts the agreement and enters the counseling program.

2012: Rambold violates the terms of the program.

December 2012: In keeping with the agreement, prosecutors refile all three charges against Rambold for his rape of Moralez.

April 2013: Rambold pleads guilty to one count of sexual intercourse without consent. (In return, prosecutors agree to dismiss the other two counts.)

August 26, 2013: Judge G. Todd Baugh sentences Rambold to 15 years in prison, with all but one month of that time suspended. That means Rambold will have to serve only a month in prison, then register as a sex offender and stay on probation until 2028 — and as long as he doesn't violate the terms of his probation, he'll never have to go back to prison.

In his ruling, Judge Baugh says that Moralez "seemed older than her chronological age," and speculated that she was "probably as much in control of the situation as the defendant was." Baugh will later partially apologize for his remarks, calling them "stupid and wrong." He'll admit that "of course a 14-year-old can't consent" but will add, "it wasn't this forcible beat-up rape." He'll also defend the light sentencepointing out that by the time Rambold was sentenced he'd been a fully law-abiding citizen for six years, and that Rambold had gone through sex offender treatment.

Judge Baugh's sentence, and especially his remarks, generate protests in Billings and outrage around the country. A petition calling on Baugh to resign gets 30,000 signatures in three days.

August 28, 2013: The Yellowstone County prosecutor's office writes a letter to the Montana attorney general appealing Judge Baugh's sentence, and asking for the state Supreme Court to review it. They point out that under Montana mandatory-minimum laws, prison sentences for the crime Rambold committed can't be any shorter than 2 years. They argue that even though Rambold was technically sentenced to 15 years, the fact that he'll only have to serve a month of that sentence before released violates the Montana law.

September 2013: Judge Baugh agrees that his sentence might have been illegal, and calls another hearing in Rambold's case. But the Montana Supreme Court tells Baugh that it's definitely illegal for him to just hold another hearing to change the sentence. Instead, the Supreme Court agrees to take the prosecutors' appeal.

April 2014: The Montana Supreme Court rules that Judge Baugh's sentence was in fact illegal, and tells another lower-court judge to issue a new sentence that complies with the two-year minimum.

July 2014: Judge Baugh is officially censured and disciplined by the State Supreme Court for his handling of the case. He's issued a 31-day suspension, to be served at the end of 2014. Since Judge Baugh has already announced his plans to retire at the end of 2014, this just pushes up his last day of work.

September 2014: Rambold's attorneys try to get the new judge, Randal Spaulding, to agree to give Rambold the minimum prison term of two years. But Spaulding gives Rambold another fifteen-year sentence, and only suspends five years of it — meaning that Rambold will serve ten years in prison, and spend another five on probation. Spaulding acknowledges that Rambold isn't likely to reoffend, but says that his "abuse and exploitation of his position of trust as a teacher, and specifically Cherice's teacher" justifies the longer sentence.

Sign up for the newsletter Today, Explained

Understand the world with a daily explainer plus the most compelling stories of the day.