The Baltimore Sun reported this week that Baltimore County judge sentenced a man to three years in prison for crashing through a concrete barrier last January on the Baltimore Beltway and killing a construction worker described as a hardworking man who had taken overtime shifts on the Beltway project to earn extra money.
The drunk driver, a 29-year-old Towson resident who drove off after the crash, received a sentence of six years in prison but the courts would suspend three years of the term. They also required him to serve 18 months of probation and pay $670 in fines and fees.
We are not criminal lawyers, but I have had several cases representing victims who died in car accidents at the hands of drunk drivers. What I found surprising is that the prosecutor who handled the case, a representative of Mothers Against Drunk Driving available for comment after the verdict, and the victim’s coworkers were all pleased with what they considered a tough sentence for first-time offenders convicted of vehicular manslaughter. Nancy Kelly, a Maryland public policy liaison with MADD, was quoted as saying that “What you usually see in Baltimore County is everything suspended but 18 months, so they usually serve less than a year.” This is a tough issue for everyone involved.
Why Is the Punishment for Killing Someone While Driving Drunk Not More Severe?
As I mentioned on this blog recently, I am representing the family of a fine man killed by a drunk driver who was also his best friend. Here, the drunk driver will probably serve less than six months in jail. [Update: $8 million verdict in that case.] Here and the Baltimore County case referenced above, my prayers go out to the drunk driver and his family just as they do for the victim and his family. But are these sentences long enough for killing another human being? I don’t know. I don’t think so.
Remember, it is not just about justice. It is about saving lives. We have made substantial progress in slowing drunk driving. But now we are at a standstill. Do we need more education telling people drunk driving is bad? I don’t think so. Doesn’t every know that? This is not an awareness problem. It is “I know it is dangerous and against the law, but it is just too inconvenient not to drive” problem. How do you solve this kind of problem? I think you have to make the punishment so severe that it stops would be drunk drivers in their tracks.
The problem is that too many people know a wonderful guy who loves Jesus and his family that sometimes drives drunk. He’s “old school”, his dad did it, blah, blah, blah. Not that I don’t have sympathy for that guy when he kills someone. I do. But in the enormous picture, he should have to suffer more. Because if he did, the Baltimore Sun would report that too and people would become a lot more scared to drink and drive. What would that mean? Less dead Maryland kids. That’s what.
We could also adopt some dram shop laws because half of all driving deaths are people coming out of bars and restaurants. But in 2013, the Maryland high court looked at it and turned it down again, notwithstanding an amazing dissent from Judge Sally Atkins.
It is important to realize that in individual cases; the judge is in a better position to weigh the exacerbating and mitigating factors then a lawyer reading a snapshot article in the Baltimore Sun. But maybe stiffer sentences would help lower the number of people (17,000 annually in the United States) killed drunken-driving car crashes.