State Supreme Court Stops Montana Judge From Increasing Rapist’s Sentence After Public Outcry

article-2402937-1b7bd6a3000005dc-73_306x423We previously discussed the shocking sentence handed down by Montana Judge G. Todd Baugh to a teacher who raped a 14-year-old student. Stacey Rambold, 54, (left) was given just 30 days in jail after Baugh found that the victim was “older than her chronological age.” It produced an outcry on this blog and other sites. Baugh then magnified the concerns over his judicial judgment by responding to the outcry by trying to re-sentence Rambold. It left the impression of a judge seeking a longer sentence in direct response to public pressure. The Montana Supreme Court stepped in to order Baugh to cancel the resentencing hearing.

What is curious is that the prosecutors did not challenge the 30-day sentence as illegal until the days after the sentencing and said that they later learned that the mandatory minimum term for sexual intercourse without consent was two years.

For those of us who viewed the sentence as demonstrably too light, the attempt to resentence Rambold added a new problem. Regardless of one’s view of Rambold, he has due process rights and should not face resentencing because the judge feels the pressure of public criticism and calls for his resignation. The Montana Supreme Court ruled that he lacked authority to impose a new sentence when the case was not on appeal.

When the Supreme Court learned of the plans for a resentencing, it orders Baugh to stop and declared that such an act would “cause gross injustice to an orderly appeal.”

Regardless of the outcome, the victim will not be here to see it. Cherice Moralez, committed suicide in 2010 while the case was pending.

23 thoughts on “State Supreme Court Stops Montana Judge From Increasing Rapist’s Sentence After Public Outcry”

  1. Anonymously Yours 1, September 9, 2013 at 2:06 pm


    And what’s the possibility of the defendant being able to withdraw the plea? It seems that this could be a case from hell… Without the CV there is really not a case….if I were the defendants attorney…. Id fight the prior statement under oath as being excluded…. Such as promissory estoppel… Or something… This is of course a coarse issue….
    The due process issue of increasing a sentence without a factual basis and for ostensibly punitive reasons is invalid (North Carolina v. Pearce, 395 U.S. 711 (1969)) even after being found guilty on retrial.

    So, an increased sentence sua sponte based on public outcry suffers that impairment as well.

    However, if there is a statutory requirement for a mandatory minimum of 2 years, it seems less likely to run into that problem.

    There must also be a state statute involved here where a sentencing judge cannot sua sponte correct an illegal sentence or something to that effect.


  2. blhls,

    We can go round and round…. But take a look at this Q: Can a judge set aside a guilty plea after sentencing?
    A: Usually, once you’ve been sentenced for a crime, the issue as to guilt is considered resolved. However, there are “post conviction remedies” available in certain situations:
    If the plea or sentence was imposed in violation of a constitutional right
    If the sentence was illegal
    If the law under which the person was convicted is unconstitutional
    If the court didn’t have proper jurisdiction over the person or the crime
    If new evidence has come to light since the conviction, which could not have been known at the time of the plea and sentence
    In these circumstances, the conviction and sentence can be set aside in the interest of justice.

    There are varying but strict time limits for requesting such post-conviction relief, both in state or federal courts. If you think the facts of your case fall into one of these listed categories, immediately contact an attorney in your area to find out what options might be available to you.

    Then this:

  3. AY: That is not uncommon, but generally happens when the specific sentence or a sentence range was part of the plea deal. When the defendant doesn’t get the benefit of the deal, he is permitted to take back his plea. I just haven’t seen any facts reported suggesting that was the case here.

  4. You know blhls,

    We could conjure up all sorts of scenarios…. I read a case a few years ago about a person in SC be allowed to go to trial after the sentence of the court was reversed…. Then if I recall Santa Clara county in California did the same thing…. I think they were within the last two years…. The error is not on the part of the defendant… I think he should have gotten a harsher sentence to start with…. But it is what it is…

  5. AY: I don’t see any basis for an estoppel. As I understood it, a specific sentence if he violated to deferred prosecution terms was not part of any deal prior to the plea so he didn’t rely on it–generally a necessary element to find an estoppel. Similarly, I didn’t see any mention of facts suggesting that he entered his plea based on representations as to the specific sentence, so a change in the sentence he received wouldn’t be a basis for withdrawing the plea. If the appellate court determines the sentence was unlawful, they will presumably remand to the trial court to re-sentence. I just haven’t seen any facts in the reports that would let the defendant re-do actions he took prior to sentence being imposed.

  6. Blhlls,

    Once the defendant was sentenced the job of the judge was done…. I’m aware the prosecutor did appeal….they asked for the maximum…. The judge sentenced him to15 years… All prison time suspended but 31 day less the one day credit….

    I’m at a loss….how this case is harmed….I don’t agree with it… Not at all…. But the defendant could raise issues of estoppel as well as withdraw it plea….if the sentence is thrown out…really…

  7. AY: A specific sentence was not part of the deal, so I don’t know of any basis upon which he could argue to withdraw it. It probably wouldn’t be beneficial to do so, as I recall part of the deal for deferring prosecution was him providing an admissible admission that he committed the conduct charged.

    Darren S.: I don’t see any constitutional objection as the sentence was timely appealed by the prosecution.

  8. I have to agree this is probably a procedural issue and that an appeal route would be proper.

    I wonder if the defendant served his 31 days and was released would it be unconstitutional to then put him back in prison for two years? He already served the time the court ordered. Or does this matter?

  9. Dredd,

    And what’s the possibility of the defendant being able to withdraw the plea? It seems that this could be a case from hell… Without the CV there is really not a case….if I were the defendants attorney…. Id fight the prior statement under oath as being excluded…. Such as promissory estoppel… Or something… This is of course a coarse issue….

  10. This is procedural law.

    The appellate court can and will overturn the sentence during the appeal process, if in fact the statute calls for a minimum of 2 years, and therefore the 31 days in jail was illegal.

  11. Many of the people commenting don’t seem to understand what the court actually did. There is currently an appeal pending, so jurisdiction to act rests with the appellate court. The supreme court didn’t determine whether or not the sentence should stand–only that the trial court cannot take action at this time because the matter is not pending in the trial court.

    Oro Lee: I’m not sure what your issue is with the prosecutor. It seems to me the original prosecutor probably did fairly well in getting a rape conviction with no complaining witness-not an easy thing to do. As to the AG’s action in objecting to the trial court exercising jurisdiction it doesn’t have, he took action to stop the trial court from taking an action it had no jurisdiction to take. Such actions create defects in the proceedings which are subject to attack and just lead to further litigation.

  12. Oh, quite your itchinBay. This guy has had enough publicity and jail time. The judge did the right thing, The supreme court did the right thing. A lot of folks have learned not to use their thing from this.

  13. I seem to think they came up with the right reasoning in a bad case to start with… If the defendant had appealed his sentence then its an open door…but since the prosecutor didn’t object or appeal within the right time….they are without recourse…. The judge normally has the ability to doing things Sua Sponte…. But here the injustice had already been done…. I think he had lost his ability then… looks like from the outside that he’s playing both judge and prosecutor….

  14. Too many incompetent public employees are being allowed to keep their jobs. Incompetence breeds incompetence.

  15. There is a prosecutor running around in Montana with a piece of paper that says he is a lawyer — flush that piece of paper down the toilet.

  16. In my jurisdiction, a judge loses control over a case a certain number of days after the final order is entered and could not take any further action other than correcting clerical errors in the proceedings. Obviously this is to stress the finality of the judgment and to open the road to an appeal of the judgment or sentence. That’s apparently what’s happening now,
    While this has been hyped unmercifully in the media, as a criminal defense attorney, I see the outcome of the case as a plea bargain highly favorable to the defendant due to the unavailability of the testimony of the victim. Of course this doesn’t bar the appeals court from reversing the lower court’s sentencing and remanding the case to Judge Baugh to re-sentence according to the clear mandate of the statute under which the defendant entered his guilty plea.. I can’t imagine that this won’t be the outcome.

  17. A very sad case and the prosecutors are as much to blame as the judge. They should have appealed the sentence immediately. The judge should be removed from the bench post haste.

  18. I cannot remember from where it originated but the phrase, “the law is an ass” definitely applies here…………to the law and to the judges.

  19. However a reduction would have flown. Only ratcheting down to benefit the criminal is acceptable??? Pathetic and disgusting people.

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