A former sheriff’s deputy, Jason Nebergall, was recently sentenced to eight years in prison for the attempted rape of a woman who had called the police to her home. According to the complaint, Nebergall answered a call at the woman’s home and then returned there later in the day. The woman told jurors that Nebergall forced himself on her, grabbed her by the hair, and touched her in sexual areas. Nebergall denied the attack, but according to those familiar with the case, his story “evolved” over time and the DNA evidence corroborated what the woman said—not the former sheriff’s deputy. It was a rare instance of a sexual assault victim getting the justice that is typically denied to them.
Understanding Sentencing Hearings
When a jury delivers a guilty verdict in favor of the state, and the crime is a significant crime involving a long prison sentence, the judge will forestall sentencing until a probation officer has had a chance to prepare a presentence report.
Before sentencing occurs, the law demands that the defendant be heard. Both the defense and the prosecution are allowed to call witnesses, but the defendant has a legal right to be heard before the sentence is handed down.
The defense may call character witnesses to testify on the defendant’s behalf and the defendant himself is generally called to the stand. In Nebergall’s case, his defense attorney asked him about his tours in Iraq. Nebergall also talked about how he was afraid for his safety in jail and in prison. Former cops seldom fare well behind bars.
Nebergall’s brother, Chad was called to the stand to testify on behalf of his brother. He told the judge that his brother was not a monster and quipped about always having believed that it would be himself “in the chair”.
Nebergall’s wife was also called to the stand and she implored the judge to let him come home.
After the parade of defense witnesses, however, the victim or victims are allowed to speak. Having the last word is a powerful tool for the prosecution. When the judge directly asked the woman how long of a sentence she believed Nebergall deserves she responded with the maximum.
This Lawsuit Beat the Odds
In criminal cases involving police, officers have better than average odds of beating the charge. In criminal cases involving sexual assault, criminal defendants have better than average odds of beating the charge. In Nebergall’s case, he did precisely what you would expect a man accused of sexual assault to do. He accused the woman of coming onto him, flashing her breasts, and claimed that he never touched her. The DNA evidence, however, contradicted his story.
Nebergall’s status as a police officer backfired in his case. Both the prosecution and the judge admonished him for tarnishing the badge he wore and casting a taint on the police force as a whole. He was sentenced to eight years and credited with only 23 days for time served.
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