Tipping the balance

John Basler was going double the speed limit at more than double the BAC limit when he hit another car head on. Both women in the other car died.

Why isn’t he serving five years for manslaughter? Because officers from the Massachusetts State Police crash unit said he was sober and the other driver was at fault.

Why did they say that? They didn’t want a fellow officer to get a felony conviction.

Police can put a finger on the scales of justice.

It is well known around here that politicians and police officers get rides home instead of to jail after drunk driving wrecks. Look up Massachusetts state senator Anthony Galluccio. Not the sanitized Wikipedia page, the news articles from 2008-2010 about his long series of drunk driving incidents. Media pressure finally forced forced authorities to do something, which was give him home confinement for a drunken hit and run that would put a normal person in jail. That lasted until the first home breathalyzer test. He couldn’t stay sober for a day.

There is no shortage of alcoholics who get special treatment. Senator Galluccio had the bad luck to make the newspaper. Most of these stories don’t come to light. We only find out if somebody calls a reporter or the drunk has the bad luck to meet a good cop.

In 2011 the Truro police chief wrecked the town’s new police cruiser while drunk. It would have been an unavoidable accident, but he had the bad luck to crash on federal land. Federal park rangers who arrived on the scene refused to leave until police agreed to treat it as a crime. (They didn’t insist on looking into why his pants were down.) The chief lost his job and his immunity. As a civilian he was arrested twice more.

You’ve probably heard how drivers say they had “two beers” no matter how drunk they really are. Arrest and crash reports are equally cliched. Civilians have red eyes, slurred speech, perform badly on field sobriety tests, etc., no matter how drunk they really are. Police do not show clear signs of intoxication, no matter how drunk they really are.

Retired state police lieutenant colonel Charles Noyes was driving drunk when he crashed into a telephone pole and kept driving with airbags deployed. Bad luck for him, officers from West Newbury were honest and reported “strong odor of alcoholic beverage on his breath” and “extreme difficulty maintaining his balance.” Good luck for Mr. Noyes, they were out of their jurisdiction. He had successfully made it over the town line into a place with less honest police. Haverhill police took over, said he was fine, and didn’t ask the hospital to do a blood test.

In this year’s case, thanks to favorable testimony from his fellow officers, Mr. Basler was convicted of simple DUI rather than DUI manslaughter. The 0.19% BAC reported by the hospital was enough to prove DUI.

The judge knew something was wrong and gave him an unusually long sentence, 120 days. Most first offenders get a suspended sentence, 45 days loss of license, and an alcohol education program.

Now compare to a driver I mentioned before who was going 80 on an Interstate after smoking a joint when he hit and killed somebody standing on the shoulder. Based on the facts described by the prosecutor it’s a routine case of misdemeanor motor vehicle homicide. Typical sentences run from probation to a year, usually near the short end of that range.

But the victim was a police officer, and the prosecutor and fellow officers will pull out all the stops. They’ll have an expert testify about reefer madness, and they will probably get a conviction for manslaughter with a five year mandatory minimum.

Take five years of freedom from a person who had the bad luck to hit a cop, and give it to a person who had the good luck to be one.

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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