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August 27, 2010

Debate in Hawaii over how tough to get on drunk drivers who kill

This local story from our 50th state, which is headlined "Prosecutors, defense attorneys spar over sentencing of deadly drivers," highlights that sentencing judges are sometimes inclined to give a break to drunk drivers even when they kill. Here are excerpts:

Honolulu prosecutors on Wednesday unsuccessfully sought a 15-year prison term for the driver responsible for a deadly crash in Mokuleia four years ago. It was the latest in a string of sentencing disappointments for them and the families of crash victims.

We've seen it many times now -- a tearful plea by a person whose loved one was killed in a crash involving drunken driving and/or excessive speeding. "I really wish you would think really hard on the sentence," Joyce Somera, victim's sister, told the judge at a sentencing Tuesday.

Often, a family's loss is compounded by a seemingly lenient sentence for the driver responsible. Keanan Tantog killed a person and injured another, and received probation and a one-year jail term.

Tyler Duarte took two lives, and was sentenced to probation and 18 months in jail.  Billy Lamug -- who wasn't intoxicated but was excessively speeding -- killed two people and injured a third.  He was sentenced to probation and community service.

"Each one of these families have lost somebody that they've loved forever," Douglas Chin, acting city prosecutor, said. "What's too bad is it seems like the court is more often taking into consideration what's happening for the defendant."

A judge sitting on a standard second-degree murder case has no discretion.  It's a mandatory life sentence for that intentional killing. But in a vehicular homicide, whether negligent or reckless, a judge has discretion and must consider several factors, including the defendant's criminal history.  If there's no prior record, the driver will likely sidestep the maximum prison term -- even if alcohol was involved in the deadly crash.

"In these cases, a judge is faced with a situation where a good person is dead, but a good person's life now also hangs in the balance," Victor Bakke, defense attorney, said. "The judge's job is not revenge."

"The argument that they've never done it before, it's never happened, doesn't hold much water with me because the fact is they've done it now," Sen. Sam Slom, Senate Judiciary Committee member, said. Slom says a decade ago, very few of these drivers went to jail at all.  But since then, the laws have become tougher.  In light of the recent sentences being handed down, he says the committee should revisit the issue next session.

August 27, 2010 at 09:57 AM | Permalink


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These judges should be made statutorily accountable for all subsequent accidents of the defendants, since he had an opportunity to prevent them.

The families of subsequent victims should be allowed, by statute, to run down the judge. Even if he is killed, the maximum prison term should be the same as the judge's for the defendant.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Aug 27, 2010 9:23:20 PM

Driving drunk is an impairment.

Most roadside fatalities are causally linked to some type of impairment which, like driving drunk, is preventable. Other common impairments which lead to fatalities are driving while tired, talking on the cell phone, texting, driving while angry or enraged at someone, yelling at the kids in the backseat and knowingly driving vehicles which are mechanically unsound(bad brakes, windshield wipers, et al). Driving in the rain is an impairment which renders you sixteen times more likely to cause a fatality.

I like to ask those who would throw the book at drunk drivers whether they would also throw the book at drivers who drive angry or are otherwise impaired? Should we imprison drivers who kill someone because they were sleepy? What if they kill someone because they chose to drive on a rainy day and they really didn't need to drive that day?

Posted by: Jardinero1 | Aug 27, 2010 9:31:50 PM

No, Jardinero1. At least not until we've been demagogued into a frenzy by politicians or an organization...Aunts Against Rainy Day Driving or some such.

Posted by: John K | Aug 28, 2010 11:27:20 AM

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