The failure of the justice system

Angie Santos, Assistant News Editor

Trigger Warning: Discussion of sexual assault and rape 

Lady Justice is the personification of the justice system symbolized with scales, a sword and a blindfold — this symbolism encapsulates the core values of the American justice system, such as authority and power. Notably, the blindfold covering Lady Justice’s eyes point to the notion of impartiality that should be applied to every case. Unfortunately, these guidelines are not always followed, and recently, a court case questioned the justice system’s ability to provide adequate punishments.

In late November 2021, Christopher Belter faced up to eight years in prison for the rape of four teenage girls. The charges included third-degree rape and attempted first-degree sexual abuse, as well as two misdemeanor charges of second-degree sexual abuse. The courtroom awaited justice to be served. In delivering the verdict, Judge Matthew J. Murphy III decided it was appropriate for Belter to receive no prison time. Christopher Belter was sentenced to only eight years of probation for his crimes.

The sentence came with much outrage, and for good reason. According to criminal justice statistics by RAINN, many victims of sexual assault are hesitant in going to authorities because only 310 out of every 1,000 assaults are reported. Out of those, only 25 will be incarcerated leaving the rest to go free. It’s cases like this that make women speaking up even less likely to happen when precedents suggest that justice will not be served. 

The courtroom was left in shock and one of Belter’s victims was rushed to the bathroom, becoming physically sick after hearing the news. Judge Murphy came to the conclusion of only probation after praying over his decision. “I actually prayed over what is the appropriate sentencing in this case,” Judge Murphy announced in the courtroom. 

After the crimes were originally committed in 2017 and 2018, Belter received a two-year probation period as a chance to earn youthful offender status and avoid serving time by Judge Sara Sheldon. However, Belter was found violating said probation by watching internet pornography and installing software in an attempt to cover his tracks. This then lead to Belter being sentenced and tried as an adult.

In addition to the actions of Belter, his parents are facing charges in allegedly providing drugs and alcohol to teenagers. Lawsuits against the parents claim that these negligent actions helped cultivate Belter’s dangerous attitudes surrounding sex and consent, ultimately grooming the young girls for him. 

“I completely broke down. It was like I was victimized all over again … I will have to live with this for the rest of my life, knowing that he’s walking the streets and that another girl can be a victim of him any day now. It’s terrifying,” a victim referred to as M.M who was only 16 when she was assaulted said in a CBS interview. “The judge failed us there, he is putting us through hell.” 

“If this individual was not a rich white kid from a privileged background he would be in prison right now,” a lawyer for one of the victims said in criticism to the lenient sentence of Belter, who lives in a wealthy neighborhood and attended private school. After receiving his sentence Belter returned to the courtroom and was assigned a level 3 violent sex offender status for life.

As long as the sentence stands, it remains a slap in the face to sexual assault survivors in the United States. Belter has been given the opportunity to walk away from his “mistakes” at the expense of his four victims, whose lives have been profoundly impacted in ways that cannot be undone. Judge Murphy’s inadequate sentencing was a blatant disregard of the safety and wellbeing of sexual assault victims, who look to the courts to provide them with justice — an active sacrifice to protect a privileged individual that is a clear danger to society.