Montana's Supreme Court blocked a judge today from resentencing a former teacher who was given a 30-day sentence for raping a 14-year-old girl who later committed suicide.
The ruling, which was supported by four of the court's seven justices, was handed down today one hour before a hearing was scheduled to void the 31-day prison sentence given to Stacey Rambold.
"We conclude that the stated intent of the District Court to alter the initially imposed oral sentence in today's scheduled hearing is unlawful," the State Supreme Court's ruling said. "We take no position on the legality of
the imposed sentence, and will address the parties' arguments in that regard on appeal."
Last week, Rambold, 54, a former teacher at Billings Senior High School, was sentenced to 15 years in prison with all but 31 days suspended and received credit for one day served.
Rambold was charged in October 2008 with three counts of sexual intercourse without consent after he was accused of having a sexual relationship with Cherice Moralez, who was 14 at the time, according to court documents.
She committed suicide in February 2010 while the case was still pending.
District Judge G. Todd Baugh, who imposed the sentence, became the subject of backlash after he said in court that the victim was "older than her chronological age" and had "as much control of the situation" as the teacher, according to the Billings Gazette.
He later said that he regretted his comments.
"I don't know what I was thinking or trying to say," Baugh later told the Billings Gazette. "It was just stupid and wrong."
Baugh initially stood by the sentence, but then scheduled the hearing today to determine whether it should be increased by two years.
Attorneys for the state said the sentence was illegal, but that holding the hearing today would "cause gross injustice to an orderly appeal."
Rambold entered a three-year deferred prosecution agreement in July 2010. The deal said that the charges would be dismissed if Rambold completed a sex offender treatment program, did not have contact with children and met other conditions, according to The Associated Press.
He agreed to the deal and admitted to one rape charge.
The case resurfaced in December 2012 when prosecutors learned that Rambold had been terminated from the sex offender program and had unsupervised visits with minors, who were family members, according to the AP.
Rambold's defense attorney said that Rambold had continued his treatment in a different program and was found low risk to reoffend after an evaluation, the AP reported.
"I think what people are seeing is a sentence for rape of 30 days. Obviously, on the face of it, if you look at it that way, it's crazy," Baugh told the Billings Gazette. "No wonder people are upset. I'd be upset, too, if that happened."
The judge said that the reasons for Rambold's termination from the sex offender program were not serious enough to warrant the lengthy prison sentence the prosecution was seeking.
The case resulted in a $91,000 wrongful death settlement between the school district and Moralez's family, and Rambold reached a confidential settlement with the family, according to the AP.