Court of Appeals upholds ‘lenient’ sentence for man who raped 15 year old

Ramsey County prosecutors have struck out with the Minnesota Court of Appeals in their attempt to get a rapist sentenced to something other than the 10 years of probation handed down by a judge.

Judge Stephen L. Smith sentenced Michael Hill to probation on a charge of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, for the rape of his 15-year-old relative dozens of times. Under state sentencing guidelines, he could’ve been sentenced to a dozen in years in prison. Hill had initially blamed his victim.

The Ramsey County Prosecutor’s Office appealed the lenient sentence but today the Minnesota Court of Appeals said departing from the guidelines is allowed if there’s a good reason. It said there were good reasons.

Five of them, as written for the three-judge panel by Judge Thomas Kalitowski:

First, the district court considered that respondent had no criminal record prior to this offense. While a “defendant’s clean record does not by itself justify mitigation of sentence,” the court may use this as part of its analysis. The record supports that respondent had no previous criminal convictions, which weighs in favor of particular amenability.

Second, the district court considered that respondent accepted responsibility early on in this process. When respondent was first arrested, he admitted to having a sexual relationship with A.L.[ed. note: the victim was identified only by initials]/ While it was reported in the presentence investigation that respondent “portrayed the victim as the aggressor” and stated “she was the one who initiated the sexual contact and he ‘went along with it,’” the district court relied on the fact that respondent admitted guilt when he was first arrested. We cannot say the district court erred in determining that respondent’s cooperation with the investigation by accepting responsibility weighs in favor of particular amenability.

Third, the district court considered that respondent expressed remorse about the offense. Expressions of remorse at the sentencing hearing can support finding a defendant particularly amenable to probation. At the hearing, respondent apologized and said, “I am very sorry for everything I did. I don’t know how it ever came across that I wasn’t.” The district court’s finding that respondent expressed remorse at the sentencing hearing is supported by the record and weighs in favor of particular amenability.

Fourth, the district court considered that respondent took it upon himself to begin a sex offender treatment program. The court stated that respondent’s “willingness to engage in a rigorous sex offender program at the end of the day not only is beneficial for him but for his family members and for the rest of us in society.” Respondent’s cooperation and experience with treatment can be a factor that is considered by the district court. Respondent attended at least three group counseling sessions and underwent an additional psychosexual evaluation. Respondent’s initiation of sex offender treatment weighs in favor of particular amenability.

Fifth, the district court considered respondent’s familial support at the sentencing hearing. The district court may assess familial support when evaluating amenability to probation and the court found that respondent’s family may help him “get to a place where he will never allow himself to engage in this type of behavior again.” The record indicates that overall, respondent had familial support during this process, which weighs in favor of particular amenability.

In their appeal, prosecutors said the sentence was disproportionate to the severity of the crime.

The Court of Appeals didn’t see it that way.

“Although respondent had an extensive sexual relationship with A.L., we cannot say the sentence was inappropriate or disproportionate to the severity of the offense,” Monday’s ruling — an unpublished opinion (no precedent) — said.

“At least one hundred rapes of a 15-year-old girl by a 25-year-old man, with whom the victim had a significant relationship, requires more than zero days in prison and four days in jail,” Assistant Ramsey County Attorney, Thomas Ragatz said in his appeal to the court.

“The state is asking this court to place Hill in a state penitentiary without having seen Hill, his demeanor, or the remorse that the district court noted he showed,” Hill’s attorney, Charles Clippert, wrote in response.

“Does (probation) fix what happened to this poor young woman? No, it does not,” his first attorney, Jack Rice, said at the original sentencing hearing in District Court, according to the Pioneer Press. “It doesn’t fix her. And we understand that. But what this is about right now is the balance of what we can do for society, what we can do for her, what we can do for him, and how we move forward.

Background: A Judge Wanted To Give A Sex Offender A Second Chance. Prosecutors Want Him In Prison (BuzzFeed)

Archive: Court: Long sentence ‘exaggerated’ crimes of MN parents who raped daughter (NewsCut)