On Friday, the Montana Supreme Court stepped into the controversy surrounding Judge G. Todd Baugh and the 30-day sentence he gave a former high school teacher, Stacey Dean Rambold, who admitted raping a 14-year-old student, blocking the judge from holding a re-sentencing hearing.
An appeal of the case is pending, but after widespread criticism of both the sentence and remarks that the victim was “as much in control of the situation as was the defendant,” Judge Baugh apologized and began looking for ways to revisit his sentencing decision. Once he ordered a re-hearing, the state attorney general’s office filed an emergency petition to stop the hearing, arguing that holding it would throw the case into chaos and “cause gross injustice to an orderly appeal.” The Montana Supreme Court agreed and intervened less than an hour before the new hearing was set to begin, ordering Baugh to cancel it and enter a written sentence for Rambold.
Judge Baugh originally sentenced Rambold to 15 years with all but 31 days suspended and a one-day credit for time served. The sentence, which was first suggested by Rambold’s attorney, worked out to 30 days of actual time served. Prosecutors didn’t challenge the sentence as illegal until after the fact, when they realized the mandatory minimum sentence for sexual intercourse without consent is two years.
Baugh had originally defended his sentencing decision as warranted by the circumstances of the case. Rambold was described as being a low risk to re-offend because he had no prior record and had spent more than two years in a sex-offender treatment program. Rambold entered that program in 2010, just after his victim committed suicide and right before the case against him was set to go to trial. Without their main witness, prosecutors opted for a deferred prosecution deal with Rambold that allowed him to avoid trial so long as he completed treatment, among other things. But Rambold violated the terms of that agreement last year when he failed to report he was in a sexual relationship with a woman and made unauthorized visits with family members’ children.
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According to court documents, at least three years before his relationship with his 14-year-old former student, Rambold was “warned to stay away from young girls in his class.” Complaints about Rambold’s conduct with female students date back as far as 2004. No charges were filed from those accusations, and it’s unclear how, if at all, that information factored into Baugh’s determination that Rambold represented a low risk to re-offend.
Prosecutors argue in their appeal that state law says Rambold must serve at least two years in prison. Attorneys for Rambold want the 30-day sentence to stand, and say any new sentence would only create “confusion and uncertainty for all parties.”