The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Local News

February 27, 2014

Clem rape sentence stands following Appeals Court ruling

ATHENS — The rape sentence for an Athens man will stand following a ruling by the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals.

In its ruling issued Thursday, the court said Circuit Judge Jimmy Woodroof Jr.’s 15-year sentence for Austin Smith Clem “is valid.” Although valid, some see the revised sentence as controversial because Clem avoids any jail time, beyond 66 days already served. 

Clem was convicted Sept. 11, 2013, on two counts of second-degree rape and one count of first-degree rape in connection with the rape of Courtney Andrews, who was a family friend.

Jones filed his first petition for a writ of mandamus after the initial Nov. 13 sentence, because it included a 20-year sentence for first-degree rape that was split so Clem would serve two years in the Limestone Community Corrections Program followed by three years of supervised probation. Circuit Judge Jimmy Woodroof Jr. also sentenced Clem to 10 years on each second-degree rape count and ordered him to serve two years in community corrections followed by three years of supervised probation.

Jones argued that state law forbids a 20-year sentence for first-degree rape to be split to only two years in prison. Jones said it should be three to five minimum. Jones also argued that in a case of first-degree rape, state law forbids community corrections, which is for low-level offenders.

The appeals court agreed.

Woodroof then gave Clem a lighter sentence, giving him 15 years in prison on the first-degree rape, split to serve time previously served (66 days) and the balance of the sentence suspended. He also placed Clem on five years of supervised probation. (Clem was also ordered to register as a convicted sex offender and pay fines and restitution.)

Jones argued in his second petition for a writ of mandamus that Woodroof should not have corrected the 20-year portion of the first-degree rape sentence because it was not in error, only the split and the community corrections.

The appeals court disagreed.

In denying Jones’ request, the court cited case law saying a judge retains jurisdiction to reduce a sentence for 30 days after that sentence is pronounced. The court said Clem’s sentence was pronounced in open court on Nov. 13, 2013, and that on Nov. 19 the appeals court stayed the proceedings. That stay extended Woodroof’s jurisdiction beyond that 30-day period. Therefore, the court ruled, Woodroof retained jurisdiction to reduce Clem’s sentence until Jan. 6.

“Judge Woodroof acted within the scope of his jurisdiction when he issued this order on Dec. 23, 2013,” the court said.

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