“We are disgusted:” The Austin Smith Clem story takes another turn

Here’s the basic story: Alabama man, 25, named Austin Smith Clem is accused of raping his neighbor, Courtney Andrews, three times during her adolescence (at ages 14 and 18). In the initial sentencing (which took place last month), the judge technically sentenced Clem to 30 years in prison — but due to loopholes in Alabama law, the way it worked out was two years in community corrections and three years of supervised probation. He didn’t actually need to go to jail for any of it; this sentence (or these sentences, rather) could be served from his house. The second sentence (earlier this week) was time served and five years of probation. Clem still isn’t going to jail despite raping a girl three times. James Woodroof (“Jimmy”) was the primary judge on this case. As it played out, Courtney Andrews appeared on the Melissa Harris-Perry show on MSNBC.

There’s a lot of messed-up aspects to this story, including this as noted by MSNBC national reporter Irin Carmon:

“There are many injustices here,” said Carmon. “An enormous injustice is that these programs that are designated for non-violent offenders like drug offenders, who need healing and have not committed violence, that the implicit idea here, that rape is not a violent act–when it obviously is a very violent act that is masked by all of our society’s issues around the fact that it’s also an intimate act.”

Mother Jones has one of the better recaps of this story and it does quote Dan Totten, Clem’s lawyer. First thing to know: he was a childhood friend of the judge. Take that for what you will. Second thing to think about is this quote:

“You didn’t hear the evidence,” Totten says. “The original allegation was that both of these crimes were forcible. But then you have to believe that although she was forcibly raped twice, she continued to come back and have a social relationship with Austin Clem and his family—until he told her that he was going back to his wife and child and would not have a relationship with her. And a week later he was charged. There’s always two sides to the story.”

There was a similar story in Montana this summer — in that one, the victim (Cherice Moralez) committed suicide during the trial and the accused, Stacey Rambold, was sentenced to 30 days in jail.

It’s easy to throw these out and say, “Well, Alabama and Montana are weird states. Hics and free masons, you know?” Well, to an extent that’s true. Those two states probably aren’t broadly representative of American legal trends, no. But there’s something insanely messed up at the seed of stories like this: essentially, the legal system is almost saying that what the guy did was somewhat OK because of how the woman reacted to it. That’s ridiculous (which is the same word Courtney Andrews’ father used). If you commit a violent crime, get punished for the violent crime — don’t get punished the same way that someone carrying six grams of weed would. You can’t equate those two things. Now, admittedly I don’t know all the facts on the Andrews-Clem case; it’s possible that their relationship really did come off as some form of consensual in the hands of the two legal teams. But that and the Rambold case sure seem pretty messed up. The American justice system is famous for locking up too many people, and that is a huge issue, but we should at least be locking up the right ones.

This all got to the point that even Cosmo was writing about it (oddly in a section called “Conversation Starters”). And awkwardly — Alabama semi-recently built a jail right near Clem’s home; despite whatever may have happened, he won’t be seeing the inside of said jail anytime soon.

Ted Bauer

One Comment

  1. This is what is amazing to us here. The guilty get off almost scott free, and with no remorse, while the innocent are framed and get the worst of the worst…it makes no sense.

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