Choose your victims well

There’s a legal principle called the “eggshell skull” rule. It says you have an obligation to choose your victims well. I’ll tell you the rest of the story about three men who chose poorly. I’ve mentioned them before when the cases were still pending. Their crimes would have been much less, or not prosecuted, if the victims had been different.

Two years ago a driver hit the wrong pedal, went off the road, and killed two customers in a pizza shop in West Newton, Massachusetts. Criminal charges followed. It struck me as a borderline case. Not a frivolous case, a borderline case. The law here is clear that you can be held criminally responsible for mistakes you make while driving. Even “just an accident” type mistakes. But the driver’s bad health was responsible and the usual way to handle that is license revocation. Several years earlier an age-related fatal accident on the other side of Newton had been plea bargained down to probation and loss of license.

Maybe the dead people had political connections. Maybe extensive press coverage made an impression. Either way, when the driver offered to plead guilty the judge said he would go to jail for two years. That’s about ten times as long as normal for a fatal accident involving deliberate dangerous driving.

Interviewed about sentencing disparity in motor vehicle homicide cases, an attorney said “It is common to see someone get probation if it’s just a straight accident”. Earlier this year a man got one month for killing a man walking in the road to get his mail. A Springfield man got six months, but he had a bad driving record and the sentence was longer because he refused a plea deal.

After hearing the proposed sentence the driver in the West Newton crash also wasn’t willing to take a plea deal. He bet on a sympathetic jury and lost. The judge sentenced him to four years, doubling the earlier sentence as punishment for not pleading guilty.

Another accident that got a lot of publicity involved a driver who went airborne while fleeing police and killed four passengers. The deaths got lots of news coverage. Given the publicity I figured it was going to be a four or five year sentence when all was done.

Wrong. The driver is going to prison for 11 years even with the discount for pleading guilty. That’s the longest sentence I can remember in Massachusetts except in the case where the prosecutor got a murder conviction for a car accident.

That sentence is above the guideline for straight up manslaughter without a motor vehicle. As a society we usually consider motor vehicle-related injuries less serious than injuries caused by a weapon. That’s a custom, not a law, and enough people crying over dead teenagers can overrule custom.

And then there’s the Missouri sheriff who abused law enforcement privileges to track people. Everybody does it and almost nobody faces any consequences. But Sheriff Hutcheson made the mistake of looking up location information for police and a judge. Last month he pleaded guilty to fraud charges. He had to resign and there’s a chance he could go to federal prison.

The lesson is clear. If you hit the wrong pedal, do it in a less wealthy city than Newton. When you flee police, do it with older passengers, preferably with criminal records. And if you do stalk somebody, pick some random hot girl instead of a judge.

It’s not just a good idea. It’s the law.

The opinions expressed in this post belong to the author and do not necessarily represent those of the National Motorists Association or the NMA Foundation. This content is for informational purposes and is not intended as legal advice. No representations are made regarding the accuracy of this post or the included links.

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