The Montana State Supreme Court has reversed a district court's decision on sentencing former Billings Senior High teacher Stacey Dean Rambold, who raped one of his freshman students.
The court said District Court Judge G. Todd Baugh erred when he sentenced Rambold to one month in prison. The office of Attorney General Tim Fox argued before the high court that he should have served a mandatory minimum of four years after pleading guilty to sexual assault without consent.
In its ruling, released Wednesday morning, the court also ordered the District Court to assign the case to another judge.
"We conclude that reassignment to a new judge is necessary to preserve the appearance of fairness and justice in this matter," the ruling states.
The court said Baugh had made an improper determination when calculating his sentence, and went on to criticize Baugh for comments he made about the victim's age and his misunderstanding of the relationship that existed between an adult teacher and a minor pupil.
"Judge Baugh's statements reflected an improper basis for his decision and cast serious doubt on the appearance of justice," the ruling states.
In Baugh's sentencing of Rambold last summer, he made comments suggesting the victim was partly to blame for the crime.
"It was a troubled youth, but a youth who was probably as much in control of the situation as the defendant, one that was seemingly, although troubled, older than her chronological age," Baugh said.
The Supreme Court, in its ruling Wednesday morning, rejected this logic completely and severely criticized Baugh's reasoning.
"The idea that (the victim) could have 'control' of the situation is directly at odds with the law, which holds that a youth is incapable of consent and, therefore, lacks control over the situation whatsoever," the ruling states.
It further went on to state that Baugh's comment "also disregards the serious power disparity that exists between an adult teacher and this minor pupil."
Finally, the court took exception to the notion that the victim seemed older than she was.
"There is no basis in law for the court's distinction between the victim's 'chronological age' and the court's perception of maturity."
In short, the court stated that "the District Court's sentence of 15 years with all but 31 days suspended misapplied" the law.
“I am delighted that the Montana Supreme Court agreed unanimously with our appeal, reversed Stacey Rambold’s illegal sentence, and rebuffed attempts to place blame on a child victim of this horrible crime,” Fox said in a statement released Wednesday.
Billings attorney Shane Colton released a statement from the family of Cherice Moralez, the victim in the case. The family acknowledged the Supreme Court's decision, saying it "restored our faith in the justice system.
"We have appreciated the overwhelming support we have received in this difficult time, and we are hopeful that our supporters will turn their efforts toward working together to keep our children safe from sexual predators," the statement said.