A 20-year-old California man who pleaded guilty to raping his 16-year-old family member while she was high will not see any state prison time, despite new sentencing rules inspired by the case of Stanford University student Brock Turner.
Crescent City, California, resident Nolan Bruder, who pleaded guilty to rape of an intoxicated person earlier this month, was sentenced on May 17 to 240 days in a local jail plus probation. Under California's felony realignment law, he will likely only serve half that time before being released — with none of it in a state prison.
"In a lot of ways, this case is more egregious
than Brock Turner," Del Norte County District Attorney Dale Trigg said. "This defendant took
advantage of a position of trust as this victim’s [family member]."
(BuzzFeed News generally does not identify victims of sexual assault.)
Judge William Follett cited the fact that the victim was not unconscious and took her own clothes off, Trigg said. Follett also said he believed that being forced to register as a sex offender, plus the "stigma" of the conviction, would deter Bruder from reoffending, Trigg said.
The district attorney told BuzzFeed News he was shocked by the judge's sentence.
"What message does this send to would-be offenders in the future?” he said, adding that he believed it would also discourage other victims from coming forward.
According to Bruder and the victim via court records, the two were smoking marijuana and using hash oil in his bedroom as they played video games. They both agreed that he asked her to have sex, and she said no.
The victim said he continued to ask her to have sex as he pushed her to take more dabs.
"Eventually, it got to the point where I couldn't say 'no' anymore, like, I didn't know how to," she told police. "So I ended up having sex with him."
When an officer asked if she believed she had the capacity to resist, she said she probably did not. On a scale of 1 to 10, her high was at a 9, she said, and she no longer recognized him as a family member.
In his statements to authorities, Bruder said she agreed to have sex after he asked several times. He added that he was ashamed and had sought counseling and stopped using drugs.
Bruder pleaded guilty to rape as part of an agreement in which other charges were dropped. In a pre-sentencing report, a probation officer recommended that he serve six years in prison.
The probation officer said that Bruder was at a low to moderate risk to reoffend but also did not appear to have taken responsibility for his actions.
"Bruder showed no real remorse and seemed smug in regards to his current situation throughout the interview with the Probation Department,” the report stated.
As California law stands now, Bruder would be required to go to prison. As of Jan. 1, all rapes — including those that involve intoxication rather than physical force — are punished with a mandatory minimum sentence.
The change in state law was inspired by Turner's rape case, in which the Stanford University student sexually assaulted an unconscious woman. Turner served three months in jail, prompting outrage on campus and across the country. BuzzFeed News published the victim's powerful letter about the impact the crime had on her.
Trigg said the district attorney's office asked the judge to apply the new standard, which includes state prison time, to Bruder's case, even though his crime was committed before the mandatory minimum took effect.
"These judges need to start thinking about victims,” he said.
In Bruder's case, however, the victim asked the judge for mercy. She wrote in a letter that although what he had done to her was wrong, she did not believe he would do it again.
Her request was joined by letters from his and her parents and grandparents, Bruder's girlfriend, a teacher at her religious boarding school, and friends who praised his character.
While several letters characterized the victim as a willing participant, Trigg said that does not fit with her statements, which have remained consistent throughout the judicial process.
“There is a misconception of rape out there,” he said. “When people think of rape, they think of physical force, but I really want people to know that rape is sex without consent.
“If that’s not present, I’m going to prosecute if I can prove it."