State Court: Judge "abused" discretion in sentencing rapist in brutal EGF attack
The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that a district judge in Crookston erred in sentencing to probation the man convicted of brutally raping a woman in East Grand Forks in 2012. In an opinion filed Wednesday, the Supreme Court vacated, or...
The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that a district judge in Crookston erred in sentencing to probation the man convicted of brutally raping a woman in East Grand Forks in 2012.
In an opinion filed Wednesday, the Supreme Court vacated, or nullified, state District Judge Jeffrey Remick's controversial judgment, which stayed Jose Arriaga Soto's 12-year prison sentence, allowing him to walk out of the courthouse on probation the day he was sentenced. Soto's co-defendant Ismael Hernandez, who was involved to a lesser degree in the rape, was sentenced days after Soto to 12 years in prison.
The Supreme Court remanded the case back to the district court for a judge to settle on an appropriate sentence, such as the 12-year prison sentence that Minnesota sentencing guidelines recommend for first-degree criminal sexual conduct.
Supreme Court Justice David Lillehaug opened the opinion by writing, "In sentencing, district courts have a great deal of discretion. Rarely do we hold that it has been abused. But rarely is not never. This is such a rare case."
Soto and Hernandez had met the woman, a mother of three in her 20s, at a bonfire in Grand Forks in May 2012. After drinking, they rode with another man to an East Grand Forks apartment, where Soto and Hernandez pushed her into a bedroom and sexually assaulted her.
Soto held her down while Hernandez raped her, and then Soto told Hernandez to leave because the victim was "his for the rest of the night," court papers said. The rape lasted for two hours.
A friend took her to the hospital later that day, and the victim reported the rape. It was so violent that she had tearing, and investigators said she was bruised from "head to toe."
Soto entered an Alford plea in late 2012 to one count of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, meaning he did not admit guilt to the crime but acknowledged there was enough evidence to find him guilty.
His defense attorney prepared him for the worst, but on the day of his sentencing in March 2013, the prosecution, defense and victim advocates were shocked by the Judge Remick’s decision to release Soto on supervised probation, according to previous interviews with them. The victim told the Herald she was “shattered.”
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court found the sentence was "inappropriate" and "disproportionate."
"Given the brutality of the crime and the absence in the record of any 'substantial and compelling' circumstances that distinguish Soto from other defendants, a sentence of supervised probation was not proportional to the severity of his offense," Lillehaug wrote.
A court may only depart from Minnesota sentencing guidelines when “substantial and compelling circumstances” exist.
The Supreme Court opinion criticized Remick for saying nothing about Soto’s culpability in the rape or whether putting Soto on supervised probation would protect public safety.
Before the sentencing, a jail official filed a report that said Soto “minimized his actions and blames the victim without taking any responsibility,” calling her a “liar” and a “coward.” The official deemed him a high-risk offender and recommended he serve the 12-year prison sentence.
A mental health assessor also reported that Soto denied he committed the offense and “did not express any remorse or regrets.” The opinion noted that though the assessor called Soto a suitable candidate for outpatient treatment, the assessor did not recommend outpatient treatment over imprisonment.
In the opinion, Lillehaug poked holes in the district court’s reasoning for departing from sentencing guidelines. The “sole reason” the district court departed from the recommended 12 years imprisonment was because Soto was deemed “amenable to probation,” the opinion said.
The district court cited Soto’s age, relatively unmarred criminal record, family support and “respectful” attitude in court as reasons Soto was amenable to probation. Remick also said that “primarily alcohol … was the problem” the night of the rape and that “this particular type of event seems largely out of character.”
But the Supreme Court held there was nothing about Soto - not his age, criminal background, family circumstances, etc. - that would make him so suited for probation to justify a departure from the guidelines.
Three of the seven justices dissented from Lillehaug’s opinion, saying the district court relied on factors like age and criminal history that the Supreme Court has deemed “potentially relevant.”
“While another trial court or the members of our court might have arrived at a different conclusion, that alone does not make this situation the ‘rare case’ warranting our intervention with the (trial) court’s discretion,” wrote Justice Alan Page.