An appellate court affirmed on Wednesday the conviction of former Stanford University student Brock Turner, who was controversially sentenced to six months in jail after being found guilty of sexually assaulting an unconscious and intoxicated woman outside an on-campus fraternity party in 2015.
The Turner case spurred nationwide uproar over the leniency of the sentence issued by Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky, who voters recalled in June. It also prompted an appeal from Turner, whose attorney argued last month that the prosecution didn't have sufficient evidence to convict Turner. The appeal called the conviction of Turner "fundamentally unfair" and noted that at the time of the encounter, which was broken up by two graduate students, Turner was fully dressed and was engaging in "outercourse," which is a "version of safe sex."
Turner's attorney Eric Multhaup also argued that there wasn't enough evidence to support the assertion that the woman was too intoxicated to resist, or that Turner should have reasonably known that the woman -- who is referred to as Jane 1 in the ruling -- was too intoxicated. He also pointed to the absence of DNA evidence on the woman's underwear as proof that she consented.
The 6th District Court of Appeal rejected these arguments. In their 17-page ruling, Associate Justices Franklin Elia, Adrienne Grover and Wendy Clark Duffy concluded that there was "substantial evidence that the defendant knew Jane 1 was unconscious at the time he sexually penetrated her with his finger." They pointed to evidence indicating that the digital penetration "occurred shortly before the graduate students arrived and Jane 1 appeared, even from a distance, to be unconscious."
"When the graduate students confronted defendant, he ran," the ruling states. "He did not explain or defend himself to them. And he lied to police about running. Jurors reasonably could have inferred from the foregoing evidence that defendant knew Jane 1 was unconscious when he digitally penetrated her."
The justices also wrote in the ruling that they were not persuaded by Turner's contention that "he was fully clothed and engaged in forms of sexual conduct other than intercourse -- namely, 'fingering' and 'dry humping' -- which negates the idea that he intended to commit rape."
The fact that he was engaging in these acts at the time he was interrupted "does not foreclose the inference that he intended, ultimately, to rape Jane 1," the ruling states.
"Neither the evidence nor common sense supports defendant's contention that 'dry humping' is 'mutually exclusive to actual intercourse,'" the ruling states. "And even assuming defendant's alternative interpretation of the evidence -- that he was to continue to 'dry hump' Jane 1 to the point of ejaculation and nothing further -- is reasonable, that does not compel reversal."
The panel also argued that Turner should have known Jane 1 was too drunk to consent to sexual activity. Less than an hour before she and Turner left the party, she left her boyfriend a voicemail in which she was "slurring and incomprehensible." Shortly after she was found lying half-naked on a patch of dirt, her blood-alcohol content was found to be 0.241 percent, according to the ruling. Her "extreme intoxication," Franklin wrote in the judgment, "should have been apparent to those with whom she interacted between 12:30 and 1 a.m."
"That Jane 1's incapacity was apparent to passersby likewise supports the inference that defendant, who was on top of her, should have been aware that she was too intoxicated to resist," the ruling states.
The Wednesday ruling upholds the jury's conclusion that Turner was guilty of assault with the intent to commit rape, sexual penetration with a foreign object of an intoxicated person and sexual penetration with a foreign object of an unconscious person. Turner served half of his six-month sentence and was ordered to register as a sex offender for life.