Comment of the Day: “How To Raise An Irresponsible and Dangerous Child”

“I know my precious angel crashed her car, but it’s her own fault: she left the keys in it!”

Michael, who is the reigning champ in the Comment of the Day Division, scores another with this comment, a rebuttal of ampersand’s plea that a mother’s efforts to deflect blame from her joy-riding teenager, now in a coma after causing a high speed police chase and an accident that closed down a major highway, shouldn’t be held against her. “The mother’s statement was stupid,” ampersand wrote, “but… if there’s any time when we should refrain from attacking people for saying stupid, regrettable things, it’s right after their 14 year old son has been in a terrible, tragic car accident. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to give this woman the benefit of the doubt, and suppose that how she acts on the worst day of her life might not be a representative sample of how she generally acts.”  I’m generally in favor of the benefit of the doubt, although I personally doubt whether any responsible parent would try to blame joy-riding on the owner of the car her son stole, or would try to minimize the offense by suggesting that “maybe he wanted to go farther than he felt like walking.”  I cannot imagine any tragedy that would have made my parents say something that absurd.  Still, I acknowledged that the context of the mother’s comments should be taken into consideration. Michael was tougher, and makes a powerful case that he should be. Here is his Comment of the Day on the post How To Raise An Irresponsible and Dangerous Child.

“I think ampersand is exactly wrong. So much that is wrong and wasteful is done because of this kind of sentiment. She should be confronted about this, because the alternative is to go along with it. She said it, it was published. It must be refuted. Not refuting it, publicly, leads to this being considered a valid opinion. Considering this a valid opinion means possibly arresting and convicting the owner’s boyfriend. It also means that it is OK to “borrow” someone’s car (however you have to) if you are tired of walking.

“Some examples of what happens when you go along with it because you don’t want to confront someone who has suffered the loss or injury of their child: Continue reading

A Last Word on the Kevin Coffay Sentence

Keven Coffay, the teen who drove drunk, killed three of his friends as a result and fled the wreck as they lay trapped and dying, has prevailed in his effort to get the original 20 year prison sentence (for involuntary manslaughter) reduced. Now he may be released as early as next spring, on parole from his new, lenient, 8 year sentence. I won’t re-iterate my views on Coffay’s case, which are already here and here. I will make this additional observation.

In his column today, George Will discusses the science behind the growing consensus that life sentences without the chance of parole qualify as “cruel and unusual punishment” prohibited by the 8th Amendment. I don’t disagree with his conclusion, nor do I doubt, as the father of a teen-age son, that the brain chemistry of teens dictate special calculations and analysis when trying to decide on what is just punishment for crimes arising from the recklessness and poor judgment of adolescents as opposed to adults. Continue reading

The Kevin Coffay Tragedy Revisited: Not Vengeance…Survival

Kevin Coffay took the wheel with four of his teenaged friends as passengers. All four were drunk, and by the end of the evening only Coffay and another were alive, three young people having perished when Coffay’s intoxicated driving caused the car to go airborn into a bloody crash. He was convicted by a Montgomery County (Maryland) court of involuntary manslaughter in January and sentenced to 20 years, not in small part because he had fled the scene of the accident, running and hiding in the woods as his friends bled and died in the wreck.

Today he is in court arguing, through his lawyers, that his sentence is too long. I didn’t think it was too long when I first wrote about the tragedy in January, but after reading his arguments and those of his defenders, I have come to believe that the sentence may not be long enough. Continue reading

Why “He’s Suffered Enough” Is Not Enough

Not enough.

“He’s suffered enough” is one of the more popular and effective rationalizations, usually put into use in defense of white collar criminals and the likes of Roman Polanski, wealthy or once-respectable criminals for whom remorse and humiliation are deemed to be as devastating as incarceration.  Yet it is still a rationalization—a deceptive representation of the truth—and shows a misunderstanding of what official punishment needs to accomplish.

A sad drama has played out in a Montgomery County Maryland court, where twenty-year old Kevin Coffay was sentenced to twenty years in prison for fleeing the scene of a May auto accident that he had caused by being drunk behind the wheel, as Spencer Datt, 18; John Hoover, 20; and Haeley McGuire, 18, remained in the wreck after Coffay fled.  All three died.

Coffay was stunned by the sentence, and news reports say that the case has torn the community apart, with the families of the victims seeking retribution, and supporters of Coffay pleading for compassion and mercy. Their argument, as it always is in such tragedies, is that “he’s suffered enough”. This misses the point of the trial, the sentence, and the societal ritual that such events demand. Continue reading

“He’s Suffered Enough”: Ethical Lawyering, Dubious Ethics

Attorney Barry Wilson is undoubtedly doing his job, and it is a tough one: arguing for the justice system to do less than throw the book at Boston’s disgraced former Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner, who richly deserves it. This is the lawyer’s sacred duty to a client that makes the profession the butt of jokes and the object of contempt, but it is an ethical and systemic necessity.  It also can be stomach-turning in cases like Turner’s. All Wilson has in his defense arsenal is the hoary “he’s suffered enough” argument. It is always ethically dubious, and this time it boarders on ridiculous.  Continue reading