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 who was 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 three years of the term was suspended. He is also required to serve 18 months of probation and pay $670 in fines and fees.
We are not criminal lawyers but I have had a number of 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 who was available for comment after the verdict, and the victim’s co-workers were all pleased with what was 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 obviously a difficult 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 currently representing the family of a fine man who was killed by a drunk driver that also happened to be his best friend. In this case, the drunk driver will likely serve less than six months in jail. [Update: $8 million verdict in that case.] In this case and in 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 really don’t think so.
Remember it is not just about justice. It is about saving lives. We have made great 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 possible punishment so severe that it stops would be drunk drivers in their tracks.
The problem is that too many people know a good guy who loves Jesus and his family that sometimes drives drunk. He’s “old school”, his dad did it, blah, blah, blah. It is not that I don’t have sympathy for that guy when he kills someone. I really do. But in the big picture, he should be 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.
Of course, we could also adopt some dram shop laws because half of all driving driving deaths are people coming out of bars and restaurants. But in 2013, the Maryland high court took a look at it and turned it down again, notwithstanding an amazing dissent from Judge Sally Atkins.
Obviously, 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 generally stiffer sentences would help lower the amount of people (17,000 annually in the United States) who are killed in drunken-driving car crashes.