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March 6, 2012

RI judge imposes lifetime driving ban on teenager for serious reckless crash

I just came across this remarkable local story, headlined "RI teenager gets license revoked for life," of a harsh alternative sentence handed down by a judge in Rhode Island. Here are the basic details:

A judge in Rhode Island revoked a teenager's license forever after a serious car accident, saying his intent was to send a message about reckless driving. "If you're going to drive dangerously in Rhode Island and you're a young person, this court is going to respond accordingly," Chief Magistrate William Guglietta from the Rhode Island Traffic Tribunal said.

According to authorities, 17-year-old Lyle Topa crashed into a tree while driving in Charlestown, R.I., in October with three passengers in his vehicle.  Police stated that the teenagers were at party where alcohol was consumed before the accident.

"The law in this case allows this court to impose that penalty," Guglietta said. "If they think that more stringent penalties are important for drunk driving, then I'm assuming at some point in time, those issues will be raised with the legislature."

While no one died in the accident, one passenger remained in a coma for weeks. Topa pleaded guilty in court to several charges, including driving over the speed limit and not wearing a seat belt. Guglietta dropped several charges as part of a plea deal.

This cursory story and some other follow-up pieces (like this one from Massachusetts) leave me somewhat uncertain about my view on this harsh and novel alternative sanction.  As regular readers may guess, I like the deterrence-seeking toughness of this sentencing response to what appears to have been a tragic drunk driving incident and I like that toughness is being express in a form other than wasteful incarceration.  But a lifetime ban on driving strike me as going a bit too far, especially because this ban seems potentially very restrictive to the defendant's long-term liberty and life prospects.  Though I would want more facts and more of an understanding of the judge's sentencing options, I am inclined to call this alternative sanction to be too much of a good thing.

March 6, 2012 at 06:00 PM | Permalink


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Of course, he can just go to another state and get his license. But from a legal standpoint, I don't think this will hold water. Frankly he should be charged for criminal negligence resulting in serious injury (or equivalent) if his friend remains in coma, and manslaughter if he dies. In some other states, he would be seeing some serious prison time anyway.

Posted by: Eric Knight | Mar 6, 2012 10:04:51 PM

That's the reason we went with interlocks. Suspending the license has that feel good element to it but it simply doesn't work. First, they drive anyway. Second, because they cannot drive legally their employment opportunities go down significantly. (I don't know how much of an issue this is in RI but in rural states it's huge) so they wind up on welfare because they can look for work for a long time before they ever find a job.

To me the tragedy in this case is that judges simply aren't learning about what works and what doesn't in terms of creative sentencing. I would call a sentence "creative" when that same sentence method has failed everywhere else.

Posted by: Daniel | Mar 6, 2012 10:07:36 PM

Like the tax code - we need to start over with criminal code. The government is out of control.

Posted by: beth | Mar 6, 2012 11:02:38 PM

Some related news.

DUI killer from Marin is killed in prison

Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2010/07/27/BALU1EKHEA.DTL

Posted by: Anon | Mar 7, 2012 12:42:42 AM

i think the judge is a retard and a crimnal!

the moment he made this statement he LOST any LEGAL AUTHORTY to impose a damn thing in this case!

"A judge in Rhode Island revoked a teenager's license forever after a serious car accident, saying his intent was to send a message about reckless driving."

Posted by: rodsmith | Mar 7, 2012 2:29:26 AM

Well, Revoking the Licence forever was not such a good idea, he could have put some penalty or given him the punishment already set by law...

Posted by: Driving Schools | Mar 7, 2012 4:24:44 AM

From a utilitarian standpoint, I think license revocations, for finite periods, are among the best ways to deal with those who drive willfully impaired. I say impaired and not drunk, because there are other impairments which create hazards commensurate with intoxication.

If I had my way, I would remove "driving impaired" entirely from the criminal realm and move it into the administrative realm, allowing for quick suspension of driving privileges when apprehended while driving impaired. You could use civil forfeiture to seize the vehicles of those who choose to continue driving, impaired or not, while their license is suspended.

Posted by: Jardinero1 | Mar 7, 2012 10:48:04 AM

Well, as with what seems to be the rest of the criminal justice system, this is really just another example where the government sacrifices rehabilitation and reintegration on the altar of whatever passes for justice these days.

Posted by: Guy | Mar 7, 2012 12:23:20 PM

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