In Texas, if you're a rich kid who gets behind the wheel drunk and winds up killing four people, the curse of affluence is enough of a defence to keep you out of jail.
In Alabama, if you rape your neighbour's kid - not once but three times - it's probation for you. And if the state Court of Appeal sends it back to the trial judge for re-sentencing, well it'll be a little more probation for you.
In September, a jury in Limestone County, Alabama found 25-year-old Austin Smith Clem guilty of raping his teenager neighbor, Courtney Andrews, three times—twice when she was 14, and once when was she was 18. County Judge James Woodroof theoretically sentenced Clem to 40 years in prison. But Woodroof structured the sentence so that Clem would only serve three years probation, plus two years in the Limestone County corrections program for nonviolent criminals, which would allow Clem to work and live in the community. Only if Clem violated his probation would he be required to serve the prison time.
Clem's lenient sentence touched off a national outcry, and Andrews eventually appeared on Melissa Harris-Perry's MSNBC show to call for tougher punishment. In early December, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals found that the sentence was illegal and ordered Woodroof to mete out a stiffer penalty. But Clem's new sentence, which Woodroof handed down Monday, only extends Clem's probation from three to five years. And if Clem violates the terms of his probation, he will only have to serve 35 years in prison—less than he would have under his initial sentence.