26 January 2004

I am very disappointed with this sentence

I wonder if Richard Romley said the same words upon hearing the sentencing news of South Dakota Congressman Bill Janklow, found guilty of manslaughter for killing a motorcyclist when he sped through a stop sign at an insane rate of of speed.

Janklow will in all probability, serve a mere 30 days in jail and will even be granted an expunging of any felony record regarding the matter. Contrast Janklow's case with one here in Arizona recently. Rogelio Gutierrez received a 12 year sentence for the results of an epileptic seizure that caused his cab to crash into a police car and horribly burn the officer inside the vehicle. Romley, in the press release in the wake of that sentence, bemoaned the "lenient" sentence handed out, given the horrid state that it left Jason Schechterle in. Gutierrez, like Janklow, had a history of driving mishaps, yet continued to get behind the wheel of an automobile.

Janklow killed an individual however, while Gutierrez harmed an officer.

Public Citizen's Joan Claybrook lays it out in this statement.

Janklow flouted the speed limit for years, practically bragging about his lead foot. He knew well that speeding Ė particularly traveling at speeds of 90 mph and greater Ė is dangerous, yet he continued to do it. In a particularly hypocritical stance, Janklow used to advocate stiff sentences for breaking the law, including the laws of the road. It is an injustice that he is getting off so lightly.

The hundred days in jail, of course, really arenít 100 days. Janklow will serve only 30 days, after which he will be released during the day to do community service. Drug users are put behind bars for years, yet when a prominent politicianís ongoing reckless behavior kills a man, he is sentenced by a judge to what amounts to just a month behind bars. That is not justice or punishment.

It is even more galling that the judge ordered Janklowís felony record to be expunged. How insulting and hurtful to the family of the man who was killed. While the court may try to pretend the death never occurred, the manís family will never forget.

The Janklow sentence strikes me as a gross miscarriage of justice. Is manslaughter committed by a man who set a consistent record of reckless driving really 144 times less severe than a cab driver whose negligence critically harmed a police officer? Or is the death of a motorcyclist worth 1/144 of an officer getting severely burned? Or is it because Janklow is a white politician while Gutierrez is of Latino descent?