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While advocacy groups have argued that former Penn Neurosurgery professor Tracy McIntosh's sexual-assault case has been unduly influenced by his prestigious social standing, legal experts say it's unlikely that judges have unfairly sentenced McIntosh just because he held an influential academic position at the time of his offense.

Victims' advocacy groups said at the time of McIntosh's original sentence of 11 1/2 to 23 months of house arrest that Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Rayford Means considered him "too important to go to jail" and therefore gave McIntosh an extremely light sentence for the 2002 sexual assault of McIntosh's college roommate's 23-year-old niece.

When the state Superior Court vacated the sentence in November 2006, it said Means had treated McIntosh as a "schoolboy" who had made a mistake instead of an adult who committed a serious crime.

Means himself has said he considered McIntosh's "social worth" when making his sentencing decision.

But that's not the same as letting McIntosh off easy because of his prominent position, said Philadelphia Assistant District Attorney Richard DeSipio, the prosecutor on the McIntosh case.

"The law considers 'character evidence' extremely important," DeSipio said. "Everything about a person should be a factor at sentencing - the good, the bad and the ugly - and the judge should look at all of it."

McIntosh was resentenced on Feb. 13 to three and a half to seven years in prison. State guidelines call for three to six years for the type of assault McIntosh committed.

Most defendants are essentially good people who have done bad things, DeSipio added, and their histories should be taken into account.

But "whether you work at an Ivy League school, or you're poor and struggling with your job, you can still be dignified and have good character," he said.

Outside legal experts agreed that McIntosh's social status should not have caused a judge to have a more favorable view of his character.

"Social standing by itself would be difficult to justify as a legitimate factor in sentencing" by a judge, said Penn Law professor Paul Robinson.

But if McIntosh is eventually tried by jury - which is plausible, as defense attorney Joel Trigiani said he would file an appeal to allow McIntosh to withdraw his no-contest plea and proceed with a trial - social standing could be a factor.

"Sometimes social status works against you. [Jurors could think], 'You're in a position of trust, you should have known better, you're an educated man,'" Philadelphia criminal defense attorney Patrick Artur said. "Sometimes class warfare takes place."

McIntosh has until mid-March to file motions for appeal. Trigiani did not return repeated calls for comment.

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