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Criminal Law

Today in White Privilege News: Judge Gives No Jail to “Rich-Kid Rapist”

Let me start this blog post by saying that I do not necessarily oppose the non-jail sentence given to Christopher Belter, the now 20-year-old scion of a wealthy Lockport NY family who pled guilty to four violent sexual assaults he perpetrated in his family’s mansion when he was 16 and 17. Niagara County Judge Michael Murphy III found it “isn’t appropriate” to sentence him to jail time due to his age at the time of offense; lack of prior record; and his use of drugs and alcohol. I do believe courts should consider all those factors in sentencing minors even for very serious crimes. If the court fairly thought that 8 years of probation (which was what was imposed along with sex offender registration) was a sufficient deterrent to Mr. Belter due to those factors, then I support the sentence. 16 and 17 year olds should not be sentenced like adults.

Its just that this sentence and this consideration would likely NEVER be given to a defendant of color under similar circumstances. These were violent crimes where, when one of the victims pled for mercy, Belter is alleged to have stated “Stop being a baby. It wouldn’t hurt so much if you didn’t resist.” One victim audibly wept when the sentence was handed down; another ran into a hallway bathroom and vomited.

Statistics support my belief that this sentence was an example of white privilege. See https://www.criminaljustice.ny.gov/crimnet/ojsa/comparison-population-arrests-prison-demographics/2020%20Population%20Arrests%20Prison%20by%20Race.pdf

Niagara County is 88% White, 7% Black. In 2020, Whites accounted for 55% of all felony arrests; Blacks accounted for 38% of all felony arrests, yet Blacks accounted for 45% of all jail sentences. I think those stats bear out that had Belter been Black he would have gone to jail.

Consider also that Belter had violated terms of his post-release probation by putting a program on his computer than does an end run around the porn-blocker the Court mandated he place on it. Psychologist Dr. David Heffler, who specializes in sex offender counseling and who had been treating Belter for two years under a court requirement, testified that Belter presented an “above-average risk” to commit more sex crimes. Add also to the scenario that Judge Murphy was the Niagara County District Attorney for 16 years before taking the bench, and you get more surprised at the outcome.

Too often, long jail sentences given to minors who are acting impulsively and out of their age and under the influence of drugs and alcohol derail lives for ever. Families lives get derailed as well. I have seen 16 and 17 year olds in NY counties sentenced to over 10 years or more in jail for similar offenses. There is rarely any coming back from that amount of incarceration. Recidivism is high as there is no counseling or restorative justice being done in NY prisons. In fact, I commend Judge Murphy for having the guts to shock the courtroom, the media and the victims with his decision, as long as it was a good-faith decision based on genuinely held beliefs that incarceration does more harm than good in cases involving youths and not just because the person standing in front of him looked like this:

Christopher Belter’s mugshot

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