A judge in Alabama has ruled that a man convicted of raping a 14 year old on three occasions will get no jailtime. Instead, Limestone County Circuit Judge James Woodroof reduced the rapist’s 10- and 20-year prison sentences to two years in a program for nonviolent criminals and three years on probation. He will also pay a $2,000 fine.
In an interview with Mother Jones, Austin Smith Clem’s defense lawyer said the sentence, however light, will inconvenience his client’s lifestyle. “It would seem to be relatively mild,” defense attorney Dan Totten told Mother Jones. “But [Clem's] lifestyle for the next 6 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 8 or 9 miles from his house, and buy a lottery ticket, he can’t do that…It’s not a slap on the wrist.”
The family of the raped teenager, now 20, said they were “floored” by the light sentence. She said she fears for her family’s safety because Clem is free. The district attorney, meanwhile, is reviewing his options to pursue a new sentence.
If this outcome of a rape trial sounds familiar, that’s because two months ago a Montana District judge suspended most of a rapist’s sentence to only 30 days in jail. The decision gained notoriety, particularly for the judge’s comments that the 14 year old held responsibility for the perpetrator’s actions.
It’s rare for rapists to serve an extended time in prison, if they serve any time at all. According to RAINN, for every 100 rapes, less than half are ever reported to police. Even fewer lead to an arrest, and successful trials and convictions are in the single-digits. Three rapists out of the 100 actually end up in jail.
On the other hand, federal drug offenders are sentenced on average to about six years of jailtime. Since the 1980s, average prison sentences have doubled for drug offenders, due to state laws that mandate harsh sentencing and take away the judicial discretion that’s sometimes allowed in rape sentencing. More than 2,500 people serving life sentences in the nation’s prisons are nonviolent drug offenders, and yet most rapists never face the judicial system for their violent act.