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Very Real

Judge in Brock Turner Sexual Assault Case Defends Controversial Sentence

Judge Aaron Persky stands by his decision, which resulted in just three months in jail for Brock Turner, he said in a television interview.

By Sharon Lynn Pruitt

California Judge Aaron Persky is speaking out to defend his controversial sentencing decision in the infamous Brock Turner sexual assault case. 

"If a judge is thinking in the back of his or her mind how is this going to look? How will it look on social media? Will I be vilified on cable news? That’s the wrong avenue. We can’t do that. We shouldn’t do that," he told CBS News on May 29, in his first television interview about the case.

In 2016, after a jury found Stanford student athlete Turner guilty of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman, Persky sentenced him to six months in jail. Turner was released after serving three months, CNN reported.

Persky’s decision sparked widespread outrage, protests, and numerous online petitions — including a Change.org petition that gathered over 1.3 million signatures and birthed an official campaign — demanding that Persky be removed from the bench.

Later that year, California's governor even signed two bills that would require sentences for those convicted of assaulting unconscious victims to be served in state prisons, versus the jail sentence that Turner received, the Guardian reported.

Despite the pushback, the California Commission on Judicial Performance cleared Persky of all misconduct charges in 2016, ruling that his sentencing of Turner displayed no bias.

The California judge has been largely tight-lipped on the topic — until now.

In the interview with CBS News’ John Blackstone, Persky said he knew his decision would be controversial, but that he couldn't take public opinion into account.

“By my ethical constraints by the rule of law, I had to completely tune that out,” he said.

Blackstone asked Persky on whether he would come to a different sentencing decision if the case were before him today. “The #MeToo movement being what it is, might you have been more sensitive to the feelings of the society around you?” he asked.

Persky, who is facing a recall vote, said he would not come to a different conclusion.

“Well, let me say again based on the code of judicial ethics, I can’t really discuss the details of the case or my decision making,” Persky responded. “But I can say that generally, the answer is absolutely not.”

Persky argued that judges should be able to make decisions without having to worry about the future of their jobs or public backlash, CBS News reported.

“We should give judges the courage to make those hard decisions,” he said. “They shouldn’t be thinking, ‘Who’s gonna hate me if I decide one way or the other?’”

[Photo: Brock Turner leaves the Santa Clara County Main Jail on September 2, 2016, in San Jose, California. By Dan Honda/Bay Area News Group/TNS via Getty Images]