Friday 13 November 2015

Sentencing drunk drivers                              

There are many kinds of killers but there remains one type of killer against whom no amount of money, precautions or planning can offer adequate protection. I am speaking of the drunk driver. Even if you lead the dullest of lives, you may still be killed by a drunk driver unless of course you never leave your house and even then, it is possible you will be killed if the drunk driver’s car ends up in your living room when you are sitting near the window with your back to the window.       

 I don’t know who infuriates me more—drunk drivers who kill people or the judges that sentence them to lenient terms of imprisonment.                    

Faton Doberdolani and his girlfriend, Venera Simnica, were stopped at a red light on McKnight Boulevard in Calgary, Canada when Ryan Kramer’s Lexus slammed into their car at more than 100 km/h on November 26, 2011.  A police breath test showed Kramer had a blood alcohol reading that was more than double the legal driving limit when he got behind the wheel after drinking with three friends at a northeast Calgary strip club.

In June, 2015, a Calgary judge handed that drunk driver a 3 ½ year term of imprisonment for the deaths of those two people in an alcohol-related crash. Under Canada’s sentencing rules, he must serve at least two thirds of his sentence before he is automatically released from prison. That means he will have served only 30 months in prison. That comes to 15 months in prison for killing each of his two victims.                                                                                  

Justice Barbara Romaine said at Doberdolani’s sentencing that the sentence was intended to be a deterrent to others who choose to drink and drive.  Give me a break. Does anyone in his or her right mind really believe that 30 months in prison is really that much of a deterrent for killing two people?

Federal Justice Minister Peter MacKay introduced legislation that would impose a mandatory minimum sentence of six years for impaired driving offences causing death. That means that the person would be released after serving four years (48 months) which is still not enough for snuffing out the life of an innocent person.

Suppose the innocent person was your two-year-old child (and your only child) who could have lived for 90 years. That means that for the inconvenience of imprisonment for 48 months in prison that the drunk driver that killed your child would serve, his conduct cancelled out 88 years of your child’s life.  Does that seem fair?  Would you say that justice was balanced?    

Given this omnipresent danger, wouldn’t you think our legal system would prioritize removing drunk drivers who kill from our society for as long as possible? But curiously, the law treats drunk drivers far more leniently than just about all others who kill through acts of extreme recklessness, which is the basic definition of second-degree murder.

In Alaska, Anchorage’s latest notorious drunk driver, Lori Phillips maimed a 31-year-old mother of two and killed her fiancé in a head-on collision. Once again, the two victims had nothing to do with Phillips, no knowledge that she was suddenly swerving toward them in a Ford Explorer with a blood alcohol level four times the legal limit. When Phillips was sentenced in 2012 for first-degree assault and second-degree murder, the judge imposed a total sentence of 20 years to serve in prison. Even that is unfair when you consider how many years were deleted from the fiancé’s life. In Alaska’s trial courts, second-degree murder sentences typically start in the 20- to 30-year range and go up from there.

Many years ago, a drunk driver killed the author of Gone with the Wind while she was crossing a street. He had a record of drunk driving so the judge decided that in order to protect citizens from being killed by this drunk driver, the judge sentenced him to 40 years in prison.  Now that is justice.

The law directs courts to impose sufficient jail terms to reflect a principle of sentencing called “community condemnation.” It reduces the impulse for the families of drunk-driver’s victims to seek personal physical revenge such as “Kill the bloody bastard!”

Many years ago, a drunk driver in California was driving his large truck and he ran over a six-year-old boy and killed him. The judge sentenced him to a term of probation. The father hunted down the driver and shot him to death. He was arrested and charged with second degree murder. The jury acquitted him.  Now obviously that wasn’t a just verdict but it is easy to see why the jury acquitted him after hearing the man’s defence lawyer ask; “What would you do to the drunk driver who killed your six-year-old son and only got a year’s probation?”

Canadians minding their own business are far more likely to be killed by a drunk driver than by someone wielding a gun. According to Statistics Canada, “impaired driving is the leading cause of criminal death in Canada.” Every year in this country more than 600 people are killed in drunk-driving incidents. By comparison, the number murdered most years is just over 500. The latter number includes murders with all types of weapons – knives, clubs, guns, fists etc. The comparison however isn’t entirely accurate. Of the 600 people killed in impaired driving crashes, more than 400 of the victims were typically the drunk drivers themselves.  That means that 200 of the victims were innocent persons.

The government of Canada doesn’t seem nearly as worried about drunks in cars, even though impaired drivers are a much greater threat to public safety than handgun brandishing drug dealers and gang members. Drunk drivers are an even greater threat than an angry spouse or ex-spouse.

No one made drunk drivers drink and climb behind the wheel. So they are as responsible for the deaths they cause as any thug who opens fire on a crowd of people. The drunk drivers should be treated the same also when it comes to punishing them.

In Colorado, Connor Donohue, a 21-year-old  pleaded guilty to charges of vehicular homicide, vehicular assault, leaving the scene of an accident involving death, leaving the scene of an accident involving serious bodily injuries and driving under the influence in February 2013 when he was 20-years old.  He could have been sentenced to a maximum of 34 years, but was given a 10-year prison sentence for the death of a police officer

In Seattle, a Dawn Vrentas who was convicted of killing two people while driving drunk was sent to prison for only  22 months for her  third DUI. That is only 11 months for the deaths of each of her two victims. Her blood alcohol level was more than twice the legal limit when a Washington State Patrol trooper stopped her along Interstate 5 in July of 2013. The 32-year-old Edmonds woman was pulled over while driving home drunk from a party on Capitol Hill in Seattle. Vrentas received her first DUI in 2001 when she was just 18 years old. Four years later, drunk again after a party just north of Spokane, she veered off a road and crashed into a pond. Vrentas' two friends, Kyle Hutchinson and Wally Corman, died in the crash, and Vrentas' was sentenced to 5.5 years in prison.

Does anyone think that sentences like what she got will deter this woman from driving again while her driving is impaired?  In the province of Ontario, anyone convicted of driving while they are impaired will have his or her licence suspended for life.  

For the most part, the penalties for drunk drivers who kill persons in some American states can be pretty stiff. Laws vary greatly on the amount of jail or prison time a drunk driver who kills an innocent person may receive. In Alaska, it can be 1 to 99 years in prison. In Delaware however, it can be as low as 1 to 5 years in prison and in Maryland it can be 0 to 5 years in prison.  In the State of Oklahoma is it 0 to 1 year. That in my opinion is outright shocking and ludicrous.

In the country of Dubai, in 2013, a drunk-driver who ran over and killed the popular Dubai triathlete Roy Nasr was sentenced to a month in prison. In 2014, a Brazilian drunk-driver was given a two-month sentence for running over and killing a British tourist in Dubai, not stopping to see if his victim was alright and then trying to flee the country.

Ethan Couch's blood alcohol reading was 0.24 and he also had a Valium in his system after he and a group of friends stole alcohol from Walmart, drank it and later piled into his pick-up truck. Driving 70 miles in a 40 miles per hour zone, he struck and killed five pedestrians as well as injuring two of his own passengers who remain paralyzed.

Ethan Couch, 16, of Keller, Texas, had faced 20 years behind bars but walked away instead with only 10 years probation in October 2015. Youth pastor Brian Jennings. a mother and daughter, Hollie and Shelby Boyles; and 24-year-old Breanna Mitchell all died because he was driving his vehicle while he was drunk in the June 15 accident.

Why would a drunk driver who killed five people while driving in an impaired condition only get probation?  Brace yourself for the answer.  The  judge had let off the 16-year-old boy who killed five people while driving drunk after the teen's lawyers claimed his rich parents spoiled him and never taught him about consequences. The judge also said that she didn’t think he would get therapy in jail.

Well you can be sure that the judge didn’t consider the deterrent factor when she sentence this you killer of humans to probation only.

Back in the 1970s, I was retained to investigate serious accidents for an insurance company and in one case I investigated, the young drunk driver T-boned another car at an intersection and killed all six people in the car which included a small baby. He got a couple of years in prison and when he got out, he applied for car insurance. The insurance company asked me to assess him to determine if he should get insurance for his car. When I met him, he was having a small party at the back of his house. In front of him were six bottles of beer. When I said that the killing of the six in that accident must have weighed heavily on his mind,  his response was, “Fuck no. They were only six Pakis.” (Pakistanis) He was never again  insured for his car by any insurance firm.

There is a pending case in Canada in which Marco Muzzo, 29 was drunk when driving and his accident claimed the lives of three small children and their grandfather. Aside from being charged with being impaired while driving his car, he is also charged with four counts of negligent driving causing death. The maximum penalty for that crime is life in prison.  It will be interesting to see just how many years he will spend in prison. I will update this article when I learn what he gets for killing the four people when he was a drunk driver. 

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