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Retributive vs. Restorative justice using the example of The People V. Brock Allen Turner Case

This blog post is going to discuss the People V. Brock Allen Turner case and analyze how restorative justice could have been more beneficial to the ruling of the case. Retributive justice focuses solely on gaining justice through a unilateral method of punishing the offender. In restorative justice there is a bilateral method in which both the victim and offender address the conflict between the two and follow certain steps to reach an apology and forgiveness. Both types of justices can take on an ontological or consequentialist approach (Wenzel, et al., 2008). Is it possible that retributive justice did not produce the most just ruling in this case? How could using restorative justice techniques have changed the outcome of the ruling?


After a three week jury trial that came to a close on March 30, 2016, Brock Turner, a former Stanford University student (CBC News, 2016), was convicted for committing the following three felonies: Assault with Intent to Commit Rape of an Intoxicated/Unconscious Person, Penetration of an Intoxicated Person, Penetration of an Unconscious Person (People V. Brock Allen Turner, [2016]). The laws of California do not classify cases like this as rape because there was no intercourse involved, only penetration. He was sentenced to six months imprisonment, but only served three due to early release on the basis of good behavior (CBC News, 2016). The young man was arrested for assault when two students witnessed him on top of an unconscious woman outside a fraternity house (Ibid.). The trial was thoroughly covered in the media and once news broke out about the length of the sentence, people around the world took to social media, and the streets, to criticize the court’s ruling based on the leniency of the punishment (Ibid.). People even demanded that the judge on the case, step down, and began to criticize California’s laws for showcasing outdated definitions of rape (Ibid.). This leads to the idea that retributive justice was a failure in this case. Not only is the victim displeased with the results of the ruling, but the public is concerned that future rape and assault cases will be handled in the same manner. People believed that Turner’s sentence was far too lenient. This type of punishment was ontological: an impartial judge and jury ruled Brock Turner and punished him accordingly. Retributive justice has many limitations that are unbreachable. The victim was not involved in punishing Brock Turner nor was the community surrounding both the offender and victim (family, friends, teachers, classmates, etc.). Restorative justice bilaterally resolves an issue, but can it do it in such extreme cases like rape? Restorative justice may have been helpful in the victim gaining some type of apology or explanation for what was done to her. The victim could have given her side of the story. The punishment may have taken a consequentialist approach. If restorative justice had been utilized, there would have been a chance for the victim to play a larger role in her perpetrator’s fate. Although punishment is not a primary focus of restorative justice, the punishment could have ended up being more satisfactory, for the victim, and for the public. Another benefit of restorative justice is that the central focus is to heal both the victim and the perpetrator, meaning that the rehabilitation of the criminal is also an important factor. One of the main reasons that the media and public are expressing such a negative response to the ruling of Brock Turner’s case, is that they believe it is a step back, and that it encourages campus rape and supports non-consensual sex. Being able to teach the public and offenders such as Brock Turner about significant matters such as consent and classification of assault and rape, is just as important as achieving justice. In conclusion, if restorative justice had been utilized in the ruling of Brock Turner’s case, there would be a greater chance that he would have been given a punishment that the public and his victim would deem satisfactory, and that both parties in the crime would be given the chance to heal.
Written by: Amanda Massoumi, Camilla Kaae, and Ingibjörg Arnadottir

2 comments to Retributive vs. Restorative justice using the example of The People V. Brock Allen Turner Case

  • lgissel

    You picked an interesting case and applied the theory on retributive Justice. How do you think the public would have reacted to a restorative justice sentence? And how could charges of leniency be countered from a restorative justice perspective? Perhaps you could also comment on some of the other blog posts on restorative justice?

  • JRasmussen

    Interesting case. It allows you to discuss positive aspects of restorative justice approach and what such an approach might entail in the given case. However, if the victim and even the community were to be involved I think you woould need to address broader questions of social justice. The public debate surrounding the case, the ruling, and the short sentence to a large degree evolved around percetions of white privilige or economic privilige in society in general, but also specifically in front of the law. A general questionwas: Would the ruling have been the same for a poor uneducated young black man? It would be interesting to discuss this question from a retorative justice perspective, as it potentially raise other issues of trauma and victimization not recognised in a retributive approach.

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