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June 14, 2007

Parents start serving 27 months for serving alcohol at son's 16th birthday party

Cover_large The Washington Post in this editorial, and David Bernstein here at The Volokh Conpirary, are justifiably spotlighting the apparent injustice in this story of two parents given 27-month(!) jail terms for having provided beer and wine at a backyard birthday party for their son when he turned 16. 

According to the Post editorial, the prosecutors "originally sought a three-month sentence," but apparently a juvenile court judge "originally imposed eight-year sentences" only an appeals court cut the sentence to the 27 months now to be served.

Commentors at Volokh indicate that the parents' wrongdoing went beyond just serving alcohol.  But, geez, wouldn't the three-month sentence (or even six months or nine months) sought by prosecutors have been sufficient?  I have long thought that any sentence more than twice what a prosecutor requests should be considered presumptively (though not per se) unreasonable. 

More details about this case and related matters are available in this cover article from a publication called "The Hook."  The article spotlights that the long sentence given to the parents should have a profound deterrence effect, though I'd think a shorter sentence could do the trick.  Can anyone suggest reasons why such a long jail sentence is necessary under these circumstances?

June 14, 2007 at 01:38 PM | Permalink

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Comments

Not this prosecutor.

Posted by: NCProsecutor | Jun 14, 2007 1:49:30 PM

Good lord. Do district court judges not realize how incredibly damaging a mere *conviction* is to someone social/economic status? It seems to me that the government would be better of putting its resources into increasing the detection and prosecution of these types of claims, as opposed to increasing deterrence by jacking up the potential punishment. Furthermore, I think that any punishment over a month has significant diminishing returns in terms of deterrence -- I doubt a parent will be willing to gamble that he won't be caught if he knows that he could get a month in jail -- unless the government is taking the position that an outrageous jail sentence will get more publicity and thus "radiate" the deterrent effect.

Posted by: Aaron | Jun 14, 2007 3:22:32 PM

The length of the sentence appalls even me. And that's saying something

Posted by: federalist | Jun 14, 2007 5:47:32 PM

The sentence while harsh is not overly so. As a retired secondary school teacher, 36 year career, I have seen too many parents cave in to their children's desire to drink and thus maintain their own popularity. This sentence should send a strong message to all parents who wish to "Just Say No" to their minor childrens' incessant to drink and may prevent some from getting hooked on booze! I immediately departed any social affair, graduation party, wedding, etc. where minors were served!

Posted by: Jerry | Jun 15, 2007 4:07:15 PM

I am a lawyer who has done both prosecution and defense, and who now sits as a full-time member of a state parole board.

That too many parents indulge their kids is irrelevant to the question of how hard they should be punished for doing so, and why a much shorter sentence wouldn't suffice to accomplish everything we want.

Furthermore, there are almost certainly just-deserts limitations on how harshly we ought to punish someone just to deter others. We don't executute jaywalkers, for instance, even though doing so might deter lots of jaywalking and thus lots of accidental deaths. This case arguably arguably embodies a less extreme version of the same misguided principle.

Finally, if one is going to invoke utilitarian grounds for a given sentence, then one is bound to try and factor all the costs, as well as the benefits. In this case, I doubt the judge took into serious account the effects on the 16-year-old who must now grow into adulthood without his parents. The boy will also bear a terrible sense of guilt ("They went to jail because of me.") When the parents are finally released, they will likely have a tough time finding work to support the family at their pre-incarceration incomes. If there are any other minor children in the home, they too must now grow up without mom an dad. The obvious costs here are immense, while the marginal benefits of moving from, say a three month sentence to 27 months is speculative at best.

Posted by: Curt | Jun 18, 2007 4:32:09 PM

The problem too is the "lightning strike" nature of this punishment. How many people, with no criminal history, who commit this crime get that kind of sentence?

Posted by: federalist | Jun 19, 2007 8:20:36 AM

It is a shocking sentence. Here in Denmark we have no age-limit on alcohol consumption and a 16 year limit on purchase of alcohol. Youth can even obtain an ID-card at the city hall in order to identify themselves as approved drinker.

Is a recent law with the ID-cards and the age limit and what have the social impact been?

For once the number of people killed due to DUI has lowered. New drivers learn about the dangers of alcohol before they can get behind the wheels of a car. In all of 2006, 73 people were killed on the Danish roads because of alcohol and we are talking of a population of 5,000,000 people.

Parents are simply forced to educate their youth about alcohol due to the new age limit and we can only produce positive results. So this was a shocking sentence.

Posted by: Carsten Jensen | Jul 12, 2007 9:46:12 AM

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