The California judge who faces a recall campaign after giving rapist Brock Turner a six-month jail sentence approved an extraordinarily lenient sentencing arrangement for another young male athlete convicted of domestic violence, according to court records.
In February 2015, 21-year-old Ikaika Gunderson beat and choked his ex-girlfriend. He quickly confessed to police and three months later pleaded no contest to a felony count of domestic violence.
Gunderson faced up to four years in state prison, but he got a break.
In most domestic violence cases, sentencing occurs within a month or two of the guilty plea, but Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky agreed to delay sentencing for more than a year so that Gunderson could attend the University of Hawaii, where he had been accepted, and play football there.
The judge said he would reduce Gunderson’s charge to a misdemeanor if the athlete completed a 52-week domestic violence program and attended weekly AA meetings.
Typically, domestic violence defendants have to successfully complete probation before a felony charge is reduced. But instead of having to report to a probation officer, Gunderson was told he did not have to check in with the judge for seven months. Even then, Persky said Gunderson’s attorney could appear on his client’s behalf, meaning Gunderson did not have to return to California.
The unorthodox arrangement also skirted a federal statute that bars adult offenders from moving out of state without permission.
It was a generous show of good faith, but it did not work out.
By October, Gunderson had dropped out of college and was not attending AA meetings. He also had failed to take part in the required domestic violence program. Two months later, he was arrested on another domestic violence charge in Washington state.
Persky’s decisions have been under scrutiny since the victim in the Stanford rape case released a letter describing the devastating impact the attack had on her. Prosecutors had asked for six years in prison, but Persky gave Turner six months, which was in line with what the probation officer suggested. Turner is scheduled to be released on Sept. 2.
On Aug. 25, Persky asked to be reassigned from criminal to civil cases in hopes that the move would reduce the distractions the Turner sentencing brought to the court. The recall campaign against him will continue, said its leader, Michele Dauber, adding that Persky could transfer back to hearing criminal cases whenever he chooses.
“Judicial bias is just as serious regardless of whether a case is civil or criminal,” Dauber said in a statement. “Many issues affecting women are heard in civil court every day.”
Persky’s critics say the Gunderson case fits the judge’s pattern of leniency in cases involving privileged men charged with serious crimes. Persky’s supporters counter that the judge’s actions show his desire to offer young offenders a chance at rehabilitation rather than incarceration. They say it’s unfair to hold Persky under a microscope, especially since prosecutors have to sign off on plea agreements, too.
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