Judge Says 'Stigma' of Conviction Is Punishment Enough for Man Who Raped His Sister

May 25th 2017

Samantha Cowan

Nolan Bruder pleaded guilty to raping his 16-year-old sister. The prosecution recommended a six-year prison sentence, but instead, the 20-year-old will spend only four months in jail.

Man in jail holding his cell

On May 17, California Judge William H. Follett sentenced Browder to the minimum sentence of three years in prison, and then further reduced that time to 240 days in county jail at half time, CNN reports.

All told, he’ll serve just 120 days in jail, and zero of that time will be spent in prison.

Bruder gave his younger sister highly concentrated marijuana and hash oil in July 2016. According to the young woman’s account (her name wasn't identified), Bruder repeatedly asked her to have sex. Although, she told him no several times, she eventually became so intoxicated that she no longer recognized Bruder as her brother and was unable to deter his advances.

The victim alleges that Bruder asked her to have sexual intercourse several times in the past, and she always refused. She also claimed Bruder molested her when she was 7 years old. Bruder stated the two did get high together, but he claimed she eventually agreed to engage in sexual intercourse.

Follet seemed to justify the sentence by saying he believed the "stigma" of a conviction and having to register as a sex offender would be enough to deter Bruder from being a repeat offender.

Del Norte District Attorney Dale P. Trigg told CNN he was deeply disappointed with the sentence, adding the judge implied the victim was partially culpable because she wasn't fully unconscious and took off her own clothing.

"That to me is way out of line because you're blaming the victim," Trigg told CNN.

Fear of being blamed or re-victimized by law officials contributes to the low rates of reporting sexual assault, according to Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN). About two-thirds of rapes go unreported and even when victims do turn to police the majority of perpetrators go free.

Sexual Assault Sign

“The message that this sends to our community is that sexual predators who get their juvenile siblings stoned enough can have sex with them without any meaningful consequence,” Triggs told CNN. “That is not the message I want to send to our community.”

The response to Bruder’s sentencing recalls similar backlash to the sentencing of Brock Turner, the former Stanford student who sexually assaulted an unconscious woman behind a dumpster. Turner was sentenced to just three months in jail.

In both cases, critics said that it appeared the presiding judges prioritized the perpetrator’s well-being over that of the victims.

Others noted the perpetrators' white privilege likely influenced their short sentences.

Black men's prison sentences are about 20 percent longer than those of white men convicted of similar crime, according to the U.S. Sentencing Commission.

The backlash to Turner's sentence was so vehement that it resulted in a change in California’s penal code.

California state law requires a minimum three-year prison sentence for rape and sexual assault when use of force is present. Until recently, if the victim is unconscious or intoxicated, judges can invoke judicial discretion and allow some of that time to be served as probation. In September, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law drafted in response to the Turner case that imposes mandatory prison sentences for cases of rape of an intoxicated person.

However, because Bruder assaulted his sister before that bill was written into law, the judge was able to amend the sentence. A Change.org petition asks for the removal of Follet, which as of Thursday has nearly 3,000 signatures.