Saturday, March 27, 2004

Criminal Injustice

Bishop Gets Probation for Hit-And-Run

The Arizona bishop (Thomas O'Brien) who struck and killed a pedestrian was sentenced to a mere four years of probation and 1000 hours of community service, despite the prosecution seeking six months of jail time. Not only had the bishop failed to stop (he claimed that he saw no one, just heard a loud sound), but he failed to contact police after the diocese informed him that he may have been involved in an accident. If this does not seem like indifference to human life and to the values we as a society are supposed to hold, then I am at a loss to figure out what is.

Beyond the question about whether or not the bishop received unequal justice is that of whether the retributive interest of justice has been served. The judge noted that O'Brien would have to face "the quiet whispers and glances of others for the rest of his life." But what about the dead victim? He will not take another breath, and I am quite sure his family would trade a hundred lifetimes of quiet glances just to have their loved one back.

If we are to live in a just and decent society, people must be punished for their infractions against society's legal code. While public shame (cf, the Scarlet Letter) may serve as a sort of punishment, it ought to be ancillary to criminal sanction that is appropriate to the crime. And who in good conscience can believe that four years of probation and 1000 hours of community service are commensurate with a life taken.


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