State seeks new sentence in teacher-student rape case

2013-11-29T19:00:00Z 2014-06-18T17:09:29Z State seeks new sentence in teacher-student rape caseBy ED KEMMICK ekemmick@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

The Montana Attorney General's Office has asked the state Supreme Court to vacate the 31-day sentence imposed on a Billings teacher who admitted raping one of his students and send the case back to District Court for resentencing.

In a brief filed late Friday as part of its appeal of the sentence District Judge G. Todd Baugh imposed on Stacey Rambold, the state argues that Rambold should have been sentenced "to at least the mandatory minimum prison sentence of 4 years."

The case achieved national and international notoriety last summer when news outlets picked up on Baugh's statements that the 14-year-old rape victim bore some of the responsibility for the assault.

Assistant Attorney General Tammy Plubell says in the brief that the state "disagrees with any suggestion, no matter where it might have originated, that 14-year-old C.M. was in any way culpable for her own sexual victimization."

Court documents refer to the victim only by her initials because she was a minor, but she was identified as Cherise Moralez after she committed suicide in 2010.

The state argues in the brief that Baugh imposed an illegal sentence on Rambold. Although the state's "indeterminate sentencing structure is usually founded upon judicial discretion," the brief says, the Montana Legislature has decided that "in certain circumstances, the court must impose a legislatively-determined mandatory minimum sentence."

"The circumstance of a 47-year-old teacher having sexual intercourse with his 14-year-old student is precisely such a circumstance warranting a mandatory minimum sentence," the brief continues.

There are exceptions to the mandatory-minimum prison term for rape in such cases, the brief says, but Rambold conceded that none of the exceptions applied to his case.

Rambold was charged in 2008 with three counts of sexual intercourse without consent. He was accused of raping Moralez, who was then a freshman at Senior High, where Rambold taught business and technology.

He was originally scheduled to stand trial on March 17, 2009, but at Rambold's request, the trial was postponed three times. The last date set was April 6, 2010. Moralez committed suicide on Feb. 6 of that year.

Prosecutors said at the time that their case had been badly hampered by the victim's death, and in July 2010 they reached a deferred-prosecution agreement with Rambold.

Among the requirements of the agreement was that Rambold was to complete a sex-offender treatment program and to make a written confession to one of the three felony rape charges.

In return, prosecutors agreed to dismiss the case outright in three years if Rambold adhered to the terms of the agreement.

The charges were revived in November 2012 when prosecutors learned that Rambold had been terminated from the sex-offender treatment program. Rambold was kicked out of treatment for failing to inform counselors that he had contact with the minor children of relatives and had "engaged in sexual contact with a number of different women."

In April, Rambold pleaded guilty to the rape charge he previously confessed to as part of the deferred prosecution agreement. Prosecutors agreed to dismiss the other two charges in exchange for his guilty plea.

Prosecutors asked Judge Baugh to sentence Rambold to 20 years in prison, with 10 years suspended. At the sentencing hearing on Aug. 26, they argued that "punishment is more than appropriate, it always has been, but now more than ever after he has squandered the opportunity that was afforded to him."

Baugh, however, adopted the sentence recommended by Rambold's attorney, Jay Lansing. Before sentencing Rambold, Baugh explained his reasoning, acknowledging that "in some respects" Rambold "took advantage of a troubled youth."

However, Baugh continued, Moralez was "a youth that was probably as much in control of the situation as was the Defendant, one that was seemingly, though troubled, older than her chronological age."

Those were the remarks that sparked outrage across the country and led to the filing of a formal complaint against Baugh with the state Judicial Standards Commission. The complaint, which asked to have Baugh removed from the bench, is still pending.

The state's appeal brief also rebuffed Baugh's reasoning.

Despite what Baugh said about Moralez, the brief said, "there is no legitimate hypothetical that allows blame to be placed on a 14-year-old student who has been victimized by her 47-year-old teacher."

The age of consent in Montana is 16, and the brief says that as a minor, Moralez "was legally incapable of consent and, as such, it was legally impermissible for the sentencing court to assign any blame to her or to mitigate Rambold's punishment because of the young victim's purported role in Rambold's offense."

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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