Leavenworth County Judge Michael Gibbens made a serious mistake in December when he reduced the sentence facing a 67-year-old man for soliciting sex from a minor.
Kansas lawmakers and court officials should study the case to determine whether sentencing laws should be strengthened or Gibbens should be disciplined for his ruling.
The judge sentenced Raymond Soden to 70 months in prison for soliciting a 13-year-old girl. Soden offered to pay the girl for nude photos, as well as pictures of sex acts. Other siblings, including a 14-year-old girl, were involved in the case.
Soden’s sentence was eight years less than the punishment called for in the state’s sentencing guidelines. During the sentencing hearing, Gibbens explained why.
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“I do find that the victims in this case ... were more an aggressor than a participant in the criminal conduct,” he said, according to the hearing transcript.
If Gibbens believes that child sex abuse victims are somehow aggressors, he doesn’t belong on the bench.
Kansas law allows for sentences to be reduced when “the victim was an aggressor or participant in the criminal conduct.”
But an acceptable definition of “aggressor” cannot possibly include 13- or 14-year-old children in a solicitation case. They are far too young to understand the consequences of having sexual relations with an adult or to give consent, facts the judge should have known.
Soden, the defendant, knew he was soliciting a 13-year-old girl. He knew the conduct was wrong. He had a criminal record. The judge knew all of this yet cut Soden’s sentence because of alleged “aggression” by the victim.
It’s a loophole Kansas lawmakers should close. It isn’t precisely clear how any crime victim could be an “aggressor” in almost any case, but certainly minors abused by adults do not qualify.
The judge made other egregious statements in the hearing, including a claim that the victim may not have suffered trauma from the incident. “Normally, I would think that the harm that would be done by this kind of conduct would be very, very substantial,” the judge said. “I’m not convinced that that is so in this case.”
For that comment and others, the Kansas Commission on Judicial Qualifications should examine his ruling, either through a formal complaint or its own initiative.
The prosecutor in the case has promised to consider an appeal. That appeal should go forward, and the state Supreme Court should render its verdict on the sentence.
Leavenworth County voters could remove Gibbens at the ballot box, but he just won a retention vote. That means the next chance to remove him won’t come until 2022.
There is another path: The judge could resign. That would reflect his understanding of the seriousness of his error and the impact it will have on the community he serves.
No adult should solicit sex with an underage girl. Such behavior must be punished severely. Gibbens should be disciplined for his decision as well, and the Legislature should adjust sentencing guidelines to prevent another grievous mistake.