Long-time commenter (and blogger) Glenn Logan has authored not one but three COTD-worthy posts of late. I have chosen his commentary on the gross negligence/extremely careless distinction for the honor, but any of them would have been worthy choices. You can find the others in the threads here and here.
Before I get to Glenn, I want to point out that a recent and ridiculous news story illustrated the difficulty of the gross negligence/extreme carelessness distinction perfectly:
A North Florida woman is saying her prayers after running her car into a home — after saying her prayers.
The 28-year-old woman was driving in the tiny town of Mary Esther, located west of Fort Walton Beach in the Florida Panhandle. Deputies from the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office say the driver told them she was praying and had her eyes closed before the incident took place.
According to NWFDailyNews.com, authorities say she ran a stop sign, going through an intersection and into the yard of a home. The driver tried to back out, but her car got stuck in sand and dirt around the home. No one was hurt inside the home and the driver was taken to a nearby hospital for evaluation. She was cited for reckless driving with property damage.
Gross negligence would be praying, driving, and closing her eyes knowing well that it endangered others, and doing it anyway. Extremely careless would be praying, driving, and closing her eyes assuming that no harm would come of it, perhaps because God would be driving the car. “Reckless,” however, may cover both.
Here is Glenn’s Comment of the Day on the post, “Prelude: Intent, Gross Negligence, And ‘Extremely Careless’”:
This basically comports to my understanding of the two terms, although I think the conservative commentariat could be forgiven for not buying it. It is a rather narrow and technical distinction, after all, and the analogy presented, while useful, is slightly strained in this case.
Having said all that, “technical distinctions” matter in the law. Close calls happen in legal matters every single day, from decision by law enforcement to write a ticket rather than make an arrest, by prosecutors to charge lesser crimes rather than what they think might be appropriate, and by judges deciding difficult cases. I don’t think demanding the strictest possible interpretation of intent is good for the legal system, or for the country. Nor is it good to apply such a standard situationally.
Some might say we should be stricter in cases of the failure of a person trusted in high positions of government. That’s a fair point, but we have seen law enforcement give our political leadership, particularly those at or near the highest level of leadership more leeway rather than less, and that’s been true for as long as I can remember.
Conservatives should bear this in mind. If we desire tighter enforcement, leading by example (i.e. when conservatives are in power) is the right way to persuade people. Demanding it when the opposition is in power looks exactly like what it is — partisan grandstanding.