Montana high court blocks hearing on resentencing rapist of girl

Posted at 7:18 PM, Sep 06, 2013
and last updated 2013-09-06 21:18:35-04

From Kyung Lah

(CNN) — The Montana Supreme Court ruled Friday that a county judge who wanted to reconsider his 30-day sentence given to a rapist isn’t allowed by law to hold a hearing on the matter.

Judge G. Todd Baugh had planned to reconsider the sentence after outrage over his initial sentence of a teacher who admitted raping a 14-year-old girl.

The high court order came shortly before the scheduled hearing Friday. Baugh conceded earlier this week the sentence may not have been in accordance with mandatory minimum laws.

But in a strange twist to an already odd case, the defense and prosecution agreed: They didn’t want another hearing. Both sides questioned whether revisiting the sentence was even legal.

“We conclude that the stated intent of the District Court to alter the initially imposed oral sentence in today’s scheduled hearing is unlawful and that the proceeding should be arrested,” said the state high court order vacating the planned hearing. “We take no position on the legality of the imposed sentence and will address the parties’ arguments in that regard on appeal.”

The defense says the original sentence, in which all but 30 days of a 15-year sentence were suspended, was correct, while the prosecution says changing the sentence now could damage an ongoing appeal.

In a response filed Thursday with the Yellowstone County Court, defense attorney Jay Lansing joined prosecutors in saying that the new hearing would be “without legal authority.”

The case drew widespread attention when Baugh imposed the 30-day sentence on Stacey Dean Rambold and made controversial comments about the victim, saying she “seemed older than her chronological age.”

Rambold admitted raping the girl while he was her teacher at her high school. Cherice Moralez took her life shortly before her 17th birthday.

In an order this week, the judge said it appears the mandatory minimum is two years, not 30 days. He said the court, “if necessary and appropriate,” would amend the sentence at Friday’s hearing.

Such a hearing, however, would “create confusion and uncertainty for all parties left to interpret and execute the sentence of Mr. Rambold,” Lansing argued.

He said his client contends the sentence imposed, which prosecutors are appealing, is lawful and appropriate.

Prosecutors filed an emergency petition Thursday with the Montana Supreme Court, asking it to stop the scheduled hearing.

While acknowledging “the district court’s effort to correct the error at the trial court level,” they wrote that the “only remedy prescribed by statute and case law is appeal before this court.

“Further, the September 6 hearing, if permitted to be conducted, will undermine the State’s appeal and otherwise frustrate the just and orderly administration of ordinary appeal processes,” the petition read.

CNN’s Miguel Marquez contributed to this report.
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