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)

  • Brian Simon

    One thing we could do for society is showing potential future offenders that sexual assault results in hard time.

    • mackthemack

      In quite a few states any sexual conduct with a person one second under 18 is a sex crime. Better start rounding up most if not all high school students. And build new prisons.

  • Barton

    he has familial support? From the same family of the person who he raped? That poor girl.

  • jon

    I doubt much good comes from putting people in the US prison system…

    I also assume that “good reasons” for violating sentencing guidelines is just another way to allow the wealthy to help manipulate the system…

    For instance, how much does a sex offender treatment program cost (including transportation to and from, time, etc.)? Family support, how does that look across the income spectrum? No criminal record, how does that work when enforcement in low income neighborhoods is so much higher?

    I don’t know much about this particular case, but it really sounds like “the closer you are to the ideal citizen the less punishment you’ll face for your crimes” and when added into the part where we nearly all commit several crimes a week (if not a day) the closer we get to imprisoning people for not being “ideal citizens”

    I guess the takeaway is we need massive reform across the system, both in the prisons, and in the sentencing, we need justice to be a bit more blind, a bit less punitive and a lot more restorative.

    • Guest_whos_coming_to_dinner

      >a bit less punitive and a lot more restorative.

      Isn’t the thrust of your comment that the court should have been more punitive in this instance?

      • jon

        No.

        • Guest_whos_coming_to_dinner

          Then why is the takeaway from this case that we need sentencing reform? Probation with treatment is a “less punitive and more restorative” option to incarceration, which was imposed here.

          • jon

            //Then why is the takeaway from this case that we need sentencing reform?

            Because what I said in the rest of my comment…

            like the first two sentences.

  • RBHolb

    There are two victims here: the young woman who was raped, and society. I don’t know if there is any kind of criminal sentence that would “fix” the young woman, but society is definitely not “fixed” by putting this man on probation for a few years.

    What this sentence does is send a message that, if you look and act like a good boy on the outside (the stereotypical “we don’t know what happens behind closed doors”), you have some points with the criminal justice system. If your family is willing to overlook a long-standing incestuous relationship, you have another point. If you can act like you’re really, really sorry, and can afford the kind of legal representation that tells you to go to treatment before you’re sentenced, why, you’re home free.

    “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.” I’m not overly concerned about what we should do for him, to be honest.

    • jon

      //I’m not overly concerned about what we should do for him, to be honest.

      And that is why society never really heals from these sort of things.

      • RBHolb

        I have cousins who were coerced into this kind of relationship with a family member when they were about the same age. Their healing has been a long, long process. One can only hope that it is complete.

    • mackthemack

      I am part of “society” and I am no victim here. Sounds like all this 15 year old had to do was not participate in this unforced, age appropriate conduct. Like we expect our 15 year olds to decline to take part in all kinds of activities. Because if they don’t they are held accountable. Easily as adults.

      • RBHolb

        Society as a whole is the victim, not so much individual members. We have collectively made a decision that it is wrong for adults to take underage family members as sexual partners. It is society’s judgment that we do not want to condone or ignore that type of behavior.

        “Sounds like all this 15 year old had to do was not participate in this unforced, age appropriate conduct.” Words fail me.

        • mackthemack

          Society is not an entity. It is made up of individuals, and I as one am not a victim of the willing and voluntary conduct of a person old enough to be treated as an adult by the very same society all day long.

          In several states in this country society has made the decision that it is wrong for ANYONE to engage in sexual conduct with ANY person a day under 17. Family member or not. Does that mean that every state wtih an age of consent of 16 allows their teenage children to be raped?

          And what is it? “take underage family members as sexual partners” or rape them. “Sexual PARTNER”? Do I hear victim blaming? My, my….

          No doubt this man’s conduct is illegal. Wasn’t that long ago that it was illegal for a dark skinned person to sit in certain public areas. Or that consenting sexual conduct between two same sex adults was a horrific sex crime. Laws are made up, and they change all the time. This was illegal. It is not, however, rape.

          And are you suggesting we do not expect a 15 year old to possess the critical reasoning skills to decline participation in certain activities? A juvenile justice system busting at the seams and countless children in adult prison tell a different tale. Your lack of response is not really a compelling argument.

          I am not suggesting that this conduct was okay or that he should not be punished. This article is about the severity of the punishment which was contested. Which is absurd – see above. I am objecting to calling this activity “rape”. I am objecting to categorically labeling a person a victim incapable of rational thought if and only if it comes to their willing and voluntary sexual conduct.

  • Angry Jonny

    Maybe he should be black. That’ll fix it.

  • mackthemack

    Having an unforced relationship with a willing person who may very well have initiated the conduct and who was less than 365 days younger than some arbitrary cut-off decided by a bunch of old guys who are afraid their little princesses are turning into actual people with a mind of their own is “rape”????

    • tarry_on

      Hill, who is now 27, began striking up sexually charged conversations with the relative about two months after her 15th birthday, she later told authorities.

      The first sexual assault occurred in May of 2015 at the girl’s parents’ house after Hill “repeatedly pestered her to have sex and she finally gave in,” court documents say.

      Perhaps he did not wear her down with his fists, but this 25-year-old psychologically coerced his 15-year-old relative into satisfying his sexual desire.

      Then it started happening routinely, sometimes at her parents’ house, but most often at Hill’s residence after she got dropped off there under the guise that she was babysitting.

      Over time, the girl told investigators she developed feelings for Hill, and that he told her he planned to leave his wife for her.

      His conduct was discovered last January after her parents found the cellphones he gave her and reported him to law enforcement. Hill gave her the cellphones so he could reach her directly. [emphasis mine]

      If you’re familiar with sexual abuse you would know that this describes grooming to a Tee. It’s both sad and disturbing that the belief that teenage children are somehow capable of having the upper hand with their adult rapists persists.

      • mackthemack

        Court documents also say that according to him she was at least a willing participant, if not the instigator. Of course that is immaterial since this “child” was about 300 days younger than some arbitrary threshold. As is the fact that this “child” participated over 100 times, mostly at his residence – absent any force.

        But wait for it…. we have “grooming”. Yes, there is no way a 15 year old could reject a cell phone thrust into her hands, and then operate it in the privacy of her own room or other locales [emphasis mine – if I did it correctly].

        It is funny how younger teenage children are coerced, manipulated, pressured and even threatened to participate in certain activities. For every single one of those they are held accountable – even as adults. For their inability to resist the “grooming” they are slapped with a gang enhancement on their way to LWOP in adult prison.

        Funny how that works….