No Jail For Child Rapist?

This isn’t a belated April Fool’s post.  This really happened.  A wealthy guy rapes his three year old daughter.  The judge, Judge Jan Jurden, sentenced Robert H. Richards IV, a wealthy du Pont heir, to probation.  Prosecutors passionate sought a ten year minimum mandatory prison sentence.  What’s most troubling about this story isn’t his sentence…it’s the reason the judge gave for the sentence.

In her sentencing order, Judge Jurden claimed she considered “unique circumstances” when deciding his punishment for fourth-degree rape.  She felt that du Pont would  “not fare well” in prison and needed treatment in lieu of prison time.

Not surprisingly, many people are outraged by the judge’s decision and reasoning.  Some claim that her rationale would serve as better justification if the offender was a drug addict and not a child rapist.

What’s also intriguing is that this particular judge is known by both prosecutors and defense attorneys as a “tough sentencing judge.”  Judge Jurden has been a judge since 2001.

Many who criticized the sentence pointed out correctly that prison officials can put inmates in protective custody if they have concerns about their safety.  It’s no secret that child rapists are often targeted by other inmates.

As an attorney who has prosecuted and defended many of these types of cases, I am extremely surprised at the sentence.  I am even more shocked at the rationale the judge gave for the lenient sentence.  This defendant wasn’t frail and meek.  Records show that he was  6 feet, 4 inches tall and between 250 and 276 pounds.  He had no known physical ailments.  Candidly, even if he was 5 foot tall and 95 pounds, I would still take exception to the sentence.

As a defense lawyer, I would fight to get the same outcome.  I’d be thrilled if I could obtain probation instead of prison for one of my clients under these circumstances.  Regardless of what sentence I would seek professionally, I find that there was something very improper about the judge’s analysis on this one. Aristotle defined justice as, “Like cases being treated alike.”  Without question, this can safely be called an “injustice” in light of the disparity between what the judge doled out and what 99% of other judges in that same courthouse and around the country would have given.

Adding insult to injury, the defendant is extremely wealthy.  This judge did a phenomenal job perpetuating the majority of the public’s belief that it takes money to get an extraordinary outcome in the criminal arena.  Additionally, I wonder how many future rape victims will be impacted by this case.  Already, there’s a certain reluctance on many to come forward and confront their accuser.  A major source of their fear stems from their concern that the system won’t adequately punish the perpetrator.  This case seems to justify their concern.

I can only see justification for a sentence like this if the prosecution’s evidence was lacking.  In many of these cases, without physical evidence, and some contradictions in the testimony, prosecutors have a tough time proving the cases beyond and to the exclusion of every reasonable doubt.  Plea bargains, even lenient ones, become necessary in those instances.  The thought process is, it’s better to get something rather than nothing.  This case didn’t have any of those evidentiary challenges.  The judge didn’t cite a “lack of evidence” as the reason for her extraordinary generosity.  As a result, I think the judge’s sentence, without hearing more, is a miscarriage of justice.