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

Comment of the Day: “A Last Word on the Kevin Coffay Sentence”

Brain chemistry?

Michael, who is the reigning Comment of the Day champion, comes up with another here regarding the Kevin Coffay sentence and the mitigating factor in juvenile crimes, supported by brain chemistry research, that adolescents are not as capable of rational decision-making as adults, and therefor should not be punished as severely for their reckless acts. This is his post regarding A Last Word on the Kevin Coffay Sentence.”

“Don’t go overboard with the studies that show adolescents are incapable of being responsible, thinking rationally, or evaluating risks. If you look at such studies, they are done in a vacuum and merely state that older people are BETTER at evaluating risks (duh). The main point is that our brains continue to develop until 25 or so. Much like Titanic research, however, this research is interpreted wildly and without considering evidence to the contrary. 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

Ethics Dunces: Joe Klein and Chris Matthews

John Edwards agrees with Chris Matthews

Journalist Joe Klein has been a candidate for an Ethics Dunce award for a long time, because he has been ethically suspect or worse for a long time. His defining integrity moment came when he lied about his authorship of the Bill Clinton roman-a-clef, “Primary Colors.” Since that time, Klein has gradually evolved into a shamelessly biased and ethically muddled political commentator from the left. Too bad. He’s a perceptive guy and a wonderful writer, but he makes his living now shooting from the hip, so we seldom get the benefit of his best qualities.

It was inevitable that the Chris Matthews Show would allow Klein’s ethical blindness to reach full flower.  Matthews has been on his own journey of self-diminishment since MSNBC decided to become the anti-Fox; where once he could be counted on to treat the issues of the day fairly and avoid partisan cheerleading, the Obama years have seen him abandon any effort at objectivity or even-handedness. Matthews’ Sunday morning panel show now eschews ideological balance and has Matthews posing questions to a rotating group of reliable conservative-bashers, with an occasional straight journalist mixed in who at least pretends to be neutral.  On Sunday, Matthews asked his panel about the appropriateness of the Justice Department’s prosecution of uber-cad John Edwards for violations of the federal election laws. It’s not a bad question, and reasonable people can disagree about the answer. The charges against Edwards stem from solicitation of large cash gifts from two long-time friends and supporters while he was simultaneously running for president and trying to cover up the existence of his love-child with Rielle Hunter and the adulterous affair that spawned her.  The money was given directly to Hunter, raising a legal question as to whether it was really a campaign contribution at all. Continue reading

The Comment of The Day: Yes, It’s About Tide Commercials, But Read It Anyway

Ethics Alarms reader Lianne Best weighs in on the Tide (with Acti-lift!) ads, with a valuable observation with far broader ethics significance. She aptly describes exactly how norms of appropriate conduct become corrupted and coarsened (or sometimes enlightened and improved!) over time:

“I hope I’m not too late to the Tide with Acti-Lift! party, but for those who say these ads are “just marketing” and don’t have any real impact … the first time I saw each of these ads, I was horrified. With each subsequent viewing I was less and less offended, until they became normal. Participating in unethical behavior starts with it becoming normal, so these seemingly innocuous commercials are actually pushing the snowball down the slippery slope. Those with influence, whoever they may be, must be cautious with its use.”