Stubblefield Pleads Guilty (Update: Sentenced to “Time Served”)
Anna Stubblefield, the former professor of philosophy at Rutgers University-Newark whose October 2015 conviction for sexually assaulting a disabled man was overturned last June, has now pleaded guilty to third-degree aggravated criminal sexual contact.
Stubblefield, whose original conviction was accompanied by a 12-year prison sentence, was released from prison after one and half years, when an appellate court reversed the conviction on the basis that the trial judge had improperly excluded from the case expert testimony about “facilitated communication,” the technique by which Stubblefield previously said she communicated with and gained the consent of her victim.
There was to be a second trial, but instead, Stubblefield pleaded guilty in a deal with the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office today, which will be recommending a four-year prison sentence [see update below]. As part of her remarks in court, Stubblefield “admitted she should have known D.J. was legally unable to consent,” according to NJ.com.
(via Barry Lam)
UPDATE 1 (3/22/18): Jeff McMahan (Oxford) informs me that he has heard from Stubblefield’s mother that the sentencing information reported at NJ.com was incorrect. He writes:
I have just seen the piece in Daily Nous about the Stubblefield case, which follows the article in NJ.com in saying that she was sentenced to four years in prison in a plea bargain. I have, however, just today received a mass email from her mother, Sandy McClennan, saying that the reporting in that article is inaccurate. According to McClennan, Stubblefield will be sentenced in May to “time served,” which means that she will not be required to return to prison. She will be on parole for fifteen years and, at least for that period, will be registered on Megan’s List. There will be a separate hearing to determine whether she will be on the lowest tier of Megan’s List. If she will be, she will be removed from the list at the expiration of her parole. I think it would be a service to your readers, and to Stubblefield and her family, if you would kindly post this correction to the misleading report that appeared in NJ.com.
At the moment I do not have independent confirmation that McClennan’s email is accurate, but it is hard to see what the motivation would be for sending out a misleading message about Stubblefield’s sentence.
UPDATE 2 (3/26/18): Dan Engber, a journalist who has written about the Stubblefield case, will have an article out on these developments this week. In an email to McMahan, he writes that “Stubblefield is almost certain be sentenced to time served.”
UPDATE 3 (5/11/18): In line with expectations, Stubblefield was today sentenced to “time served” and will not be returning to prison. NJ.com reports:
On March 19, Stubblefield, who once chaired the Rutgers-Newark philosophy department, struck a deal with prosecutors to plead guilty to a third-degree charge of aggravated criminal sexual contact. In accepting the offer, the West Orange resident admitted she knew at the time of her sexual encounters with [the victim], a 37-year-old nonverbal man with cerebral palsy, that he had been found mentally incompetent and could not legally consent…
[The victim’s brother] read a statement aloud to Judge John Zunic, who was assigned the case following the appeal’s court ruling. D.J. stood beside his brother, gripping his arm at times.
“Anna Stubblefield took advantage of [my brother’s] vulnerability,” he said. “And the thing that she was supposedly saving him from was the very thing she needed to get away with her crime: [my brother’s] silence. … It feels like a scab of an almost healed wound has been ripped off. I do not feel there is justice in this plea deal.”
[The victim’s] brother implored that Zunic vacate the plea deal and take the “unprecedented” step of reimposing her original charges.
Zunic did not.
“If there were a plea agreement that really shocked my conscience, I would vacate it under the ruling,” he said. “I don’t see that in this case, though.”
He added that he sympathized with the victim’s family and that the sentence imposed “certainly does not bring any finality to the victim and his family.”
Stubblefield, wearing a white sweater and a green skirt, remained seated beside her attorneys during the sentencing. She declined to comment when asked by Zunic if she’d like to speak. Her attorney, James Patton, did not wish to comment after the hearing.
Stubblefield will have to spend the rest of her life under parole supervision and will have to register as a sex offender under Megan’s Law. She will also not be allowed to have contact with the victim or his family.
Stubblefield attributes words to her victim in her published scholarship. Since the victim is not verbal, all such articles should be retracted.Report
I have no desire to stand up for a now-convicted rapist, and from what I have read, I am as skeptical of her methods as anyone. Nonetheless, I would disagree on principle in a retraction on the basis of the words if the method of acquiring them is included or cited in the article. This seems like a matter better left to the judgment of the reader (plus the peer review of the methods, which already occurred). Retraction considerations strike me as following a very different standard than their probative value in a court of law.Report
“This seems like a matter better left to the judgment of the reader”
I’m trying to imagine an editor of an oncology journal, who has discovered that a published article contains a manipulated or forged image, saying “this seems like a matter better left to the judgment of the reader.”Report
It seems more analogous to an oncology journal with an image generated by statistical techniques in a scanning method that have since been discovered to be unreliable. There’s still an image that was generated here, but the reader has the opportunity to try to figure out what relation it actually bears to whatever was going on in the actual patient.Report
The issue here strikes me as largely moot: any journal which judged facilitated communication to be reliable wouldn’t be dissuaded from this judgement by Stubblefield’s guilty plea; and any journal which judged it to be unreliable wouldn’t have published her article in the first place.Report
True about the journal. But what about the argument: “the ongoing unqualified availability of the article … is arguably a further injustice to the rape victim in this case.”Report
What about that argument? Well, it’s not a very good one. Not everything bad–not everything we wish were otherwise–is an “injustice” that demands we correct it. IGS’s earlier comment in on point. It’s ok to leave things to people’s individual judgements. The notion that we need to police anything and everything under the sun for possible “injustices” is a corrosive mentality.Report
“Not everything bad–not everything we wish were otherwise–is an “injustice” that demands we correct it.”
Agreed. But when someone sexually assaults an extremely vulnerable person, and then attributes to that person words that cannot be his, and then publishes those words in articles as the basis of one’s scholarship, there is harm both to the vulnerable person and to readers of the articles.
“It’s ok to leave things to people’s individual judgements.”
I’m not sure that’s how science works. Science journals issue retract articles all the time for forged images.
“IGS’s earlier comment in on point.”
Facilitated communication has been longed debunked, well before Stubblefield’s articles. The literature is clear (see Auerbach’s piece in Slate for a popular account, or the research of James Todd, Mark Mostert, Jason Travers). Easwaran’s modification to the analogy above doesn’t seem to recognize that FC was discredited back in the 90s as pseudoscience, well before Stubblefield’s articles appeared. We don’t say “let’s let readers decide” about pseudoscience. Disciplines don’t operate that way.Report
Philosophy, as an academic discipline, is not what we now call a “science.” So much the better for our discipline. There’s no good reason to think that the norms governing science journals should be the same those governing journals in other fields.Report
If the method was debunked in the 90s, then the articles should not have passed peer review in the first place. In that respect, we might agree that the articles ideally would not have been published if the literature is as you suggest. Apparently, the peer reviewers disagreed, and the standards ought to be different for retraction.
Of course I agree that if this were analogous to a forged image that thereby misrepresents the underlying method, then retraction would be appropriate, but I think Kenny Easwaran presented a much better analogy.Report
Passing peer review does not necessarily inoculate an article from a future retraction. Here’s an account – published today – about a science journal retracting an article that passed peer review, and the retraction is due to the dubious research methods of the article (which were fully disclosed in the article):
This is a good example. An editor of the journal has already resigned in the aftermath of this retraction. The Retraction Watch article on this incident addresses this point exactly:
“If we may: It’s one thing to reject a paper because the study it’s based on is too flawed to be published — or ‘not even wrong,’ as some might put it. It’s another to retract it because peer reviewers apparently missed the fact that it was too flawed to be published. That’s not among the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) criteria for retraction.”
The last sentence is my point. Flawed methodology without representation of that methodology is not among the criteria for retraction.Report
The original nj.com article says “Stubblefield could receive credit for time already served under the previous sentence”. So the update and the original article are potentially compatible; even if the official sentence is for four years, she will get credit substantially reducing that. The update suggests the credit will cover the entire sentence, taking into account time served during the trial/appeal.Report
Justin, you can try and get verification from Dan Engber, the reporter who wrote the original NYTimes piece and is a columnist for Slate. His Twitter feed about the case is consistent with Sandy Mclennan’s remarks.Report
Hi Barry. I just put an update on the post about this. Engber will be writing an article on this soon, but writes that “Stubblefield is almost certain be sentenced to time served.”Report
As a lawyer:
Remember that the guideline for a proper finding is usually 5% or even less. In a well-run study, a finding will be rejected unless it is almost certainly believed not to be false or random chance. Facilitated communication fails that test.
In the criminal context, a charge of guilty requires a “beyond a reasonable doubt” certainty. This is not known for sure but has tested as pretty close to 95%, on the other side.
That leaves a 90% gray area, which in theory should often result in a “not guilty” finding.
It’s quite possible for facilitated communication to fail the “scientific proof” test but still affect the minds of the jury and impact the “reasonable doubt test.” Of course there are hurdles to admissibility from the Daubert line of cases (which supposedly requires scientific consensus) but even so a good defense lawyer could work it pretty well I think.
In any case she was probably smart to plead out for time served.
But this is an interesting outcome in the middle of the MeToo movement. Does anyone think this verdict would fly were genders reversed?Report
The new Engber story is online now:
“barring some surprise at the sentencing in early May, she will receive no further time in prison beyond the nearly 22 months she has already served.”Report