The Montana State Supreme Court has made its decision. It's vacating the 30-day sentence handed down in August to the former Billings Senior High teacher who raped a 14-year-old student, the same student who later committed suicide.
The State Supreme Court says District Judge G. Todd Baugh imposed an illegal sentence, so they vacated it. Prosecutors say they are pleased with the decision.
"As far as the legal argument with regard to the statutory sentencing authority, I thought the court decided it correctly under the legal framework that we have in Montana," said Scott Twito, Yellowstone County Attorney.
The justices wrote the sentence was illegal because it misapplied certain statutes. The opinion states the mandatory minimum sentence should have been two years.
"I think it sends a clear message that if you have a case where you charge a sexual intercourse without consent statute based on the age of the victim and the age of the offender that there is only sentencing authority for the court to suspend or defer a certain portion of the sentence. They can't suspend or defer all of it or a great chunk of it," Twito said.
The Court also instructs District Court to reassign the case to a different judge, criticizing Baugh's handling of the case. They wrote, "Judge Baugh's statements reflected an improper basis for his decision and cast serious doubt on the appearance of justice."
Baugh's comments in August about the victim acting older than her chronological age sparked outrage across the nation, causing many to call for Baugh's removal from the bench.
Auliea Hanlon, the victim's mother, released a statement saying, "the family of Cherice Moralez would like to acknowledge the Supreme Court's decision, restoring our faith in the justice system. We have appreciated the overwhelming support we have received in this difficult time, and we are hopeful that our supporters will turn their efforts toward working together to keep our children safe from sexual predators."
Organizers with Justice for Cherice say this is a huge victory for victim's rights and sends a statement against victim blaming.
"I think it's a step in the right direction. I don't think it solves everything," said Sheena Rice, one of the organizers of the protest against Baugh. "I think this is still something that we're going to have to continue to work for. But it was basically the Supreme Court said today that victims do have rights and can't be blamed by judges."
The Supreme Court's opinion also stated complaints against Baugh will be addressed in a separate proceeding.
We called Judge Baugh's office and he says he has no comment. We also called Rambold's attorney and those calls have not yet been returned.
The county attorney's office says it's in touch with the family. The next step will be to reassign the case to a new judge and set a sentencing date.