Disturbing Sentencing News From Alabama

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When it comes to meting out punishment in courts, there's sentencing guidelines and generally they are followed. But judges are, for the most part, given discretion based on the facts and evidence in a case. Sometimes additional time is tacked on, sometimes a lesser sentence is granted. And then there's always the consideration of probation for some or all of the term. From AL.com:

ATHENS, Alabama - A man accused of raping a teenage acquaintance was convicted by a Limestone County jury this afternoon, according to District Attorney Brian Jones.

Some of the incidents occurred when she was under 16, [14 years old for two of the attacks] which included the second-degree counts, and one when she was over 16, which led to the first-degree count of forcible sex.

After deliberating for just under two hours, the jury returned with guilty verdicts for one count of first-degree rape and two counts of second-degree rape against 25-year-old Austin Smith Clem, Jones said. Clem will be sentenced Nov. 13 in Limestone County Circuit Court.

It doesn't seem like the jury had a particularly difficult time in reaching a verdict. Then two days later, the judge didn't seem to have too much difficulty in meting out sentencing...

According to Mother Jones who carried this story, here's the judges declared sentence for Mr. Clem:

Limestone County Circuit Judge James Woodroof sentenced Clem to 10 years in prison for each of the second-degree rape charges and 20 years for first-degree rape.

If you do the crime, you gotta do the time -- isn't that how the saying goes?

But Woodroof structured the sentence in such a way that Clem will only be hit with community corrections and probation. Clem will have to register as a sex offender and pay fines and restitution—a total of $2,381, according to the sentencing document provided to Mother Jones—but he will not serve jail time unless he violates the terms of his sentencing.

Huh? Whoa. What?

On Wednesday, a judge in Athens, Alabama, ruled that the rapist will be punished by serving two years in a program aimed at nonviolent criminals and three years of probation.

According to Clem's sentencing order, which Brian Jones, the Limestone County district attorney, provided to Mother Jones, Clem will serve the first half of his sentence under the supervision of the Limestone County community corrections program. The program is aimed at "redirecting the lives" of nonviolent, low-level offenders who are "likely to maintain a productive and law-abiding life as a result of accountability, guidance and direction to services they need," according to the program's website.

Multiple rape CONVICTIONS and no jail sentence? These weren't plea agreements. These charges went to trial and this man was found guilty by a jury. Sounds to me like Lady Justice just got raped and this time by Circuit Judge James Woodroof.

This guy Clem is sentenced to a program which "is aimed at "redirecting the lives" of nonviolent, low-level offenders." Excuse me. Income tax evasion and driving without a license are nonviolent crimes. But RAPE, and especially of a minor? Where's this judge stashing his crack pipe, under his robes?

Dan Totten, Clem's defense attorney, did agree that this was a light, but fair sentence. After all, he points out,

"But [Clem's] lifestyle for the next six years is going to be very controlled…If he goes to a party and they're serving beer, he can't say, 'Can I have one?' If he wanted to go across the Tennessee line, which as the crow flies is eight or nine miles from his house, and buy a lottery ticket, he can't do that…It's not a slap on the wrist."

He can't ask for a beer at a party or go buy a lottery ticket across state lines? Are you sh**ing me? That is harsh.

Can the victim just go out and ask for her innocence back? What's her lifetime sentence compared with three years of probation?

Somebody talk me down from this, if you think you can.

While you're at it, don't forget to follow me on Twitter: @Linzack

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  • Law 'n order

    Given that the local DA provided this story to Mother Jones, a prosecution appeal of the sentence seems likely.

  • sandinbrick

    To me, raping any woman should not be treated like this, what about this woman, she will not forget that justice was not served in her behalf, and this the weak laws in Alabama. Once you have this condition of a rapist, there is no going back to being a good man. I mean, this is an injustice, my State of NJ sends these guys, but it's no good. They get released and they do it all gain. thanks for listening.

  • fantagor

    Meanwhile, there are thousands in prison for 10-20+ years for the mere possession of drugs. Guess they should have taken up serial raping a girl if they wanted a lighter sentence.