Aggravated Vehicular Homicide – Solution Du Jour

Yesterday, Gov. Eliot Spitzer signed the bill making Aggravated Vehicular Homicide our newest law.  It will most assuredly have an impact, though I doubt it will be the impact that the true believers want it to be.

Why did the Legislature enact this new law?  Let’s look to the Legislative purpose:

Drunken Driving is a pervasive blight on out society which may have far reaching negative effects o those lives it touches.

Is this new?  Did the Legislature just discover this?

Death, parilization [sic], amputation, head trauma and disfigurement are common when a car driven by a drunk driver is involved in an accident.

Can’t argue with that.  Of course, that’s equally true of any collision, regardless of whether a driver is drunk, or even if the drunk driver is not the driver at fault. Hey, I bet you forgot all about that possibility.

As a society we have already determined this to be a significant crime.  When an individual gets behind the wheel of a vehicle drunk, that vehicle becomes a weapon.

Let’s clear one thing up here.  Vehicles do not get drunk.  Drivers do.  And having already determined this to be a significant crime, meaning that we’ve dealt with it, doesn’t this mean we can all go home now?

Therefore, it is important that law enforcement and prosecutors have the tools necessary to properly charge and convict criminals who have committed a DWI resulting in personal injury or death.

It certainly is important.  So is the state paying for additional breathalysers?  More cops?  Better training?  Ohhhh, those weren’t the “tools” you were talking about, were they. 

For these reasons, it is essential that we pass strict laws proclaiming that this state will have no tolerance for such behavior and will punish those offenders appropriately both for what they have done and to discourage others.

By cutting through the rhetoric, the point of the new law becomes clear.  Elected officials have a constant struggle to come up with new, get-tough-on-crime laws to pretend that they are doing something worthy of re-election so they can show the voters how worthy they are. 

“Look at me, my darling voters,” State Sen. Chuck Fuschillo says.  “I know you’re too ignorant to appreciate the cynicism of my new law, intended to capitalize on the horror and misery of poor decapitated Katie, but now you can love me for letting you release your anger and frustration by pretending that we’ve actually done something.  Now you can sleep well at night knowing I’m on the job.  I will thrive on your ignorance and fear, as if I have accomplished something on your behalf when all I’ve done is played you for fools.”  That Chuck Fuschillo is one smart guy.

Well, you can’t blame Chuck for trying, right?  So why will this have an impact?  Consider the lives that will be ruined in the process, the millions of tax dollars spent, all for a result-oriented law that bears no causal relation to the conduct it purports to prevent.  The societal cost will be huge.

And what of the benefit?  Ah, there’s the rub.  Rarely has a law been so totally without benefit as this one.  It accomplishes one thing and one thing only.  It increases the potential prison sentence from 15 to 25 years where deaths result from an accident where a driver was drunk. 

Now some (perhaps many) will say that’s a great thing.  They will contend that increasing the sentence is not only good, but right. Why?  Because drunk driving is bad.  Must be stopped.  Must be punished!

Precisely. If anyone believes, after only a few seconds of thought, that the person who drives drunk after a deliberative process will be dissuaded from doing so because the prison sentence has been increased from 15 to 25 years, they are loopy.  Do you really think that 15 years isn’t enough time in prison to do the trick?  Are drunks muttering to themselves, “Well, for 15 years I’d risk it, but I’m not driving drunk if I’m facing 25!”  Get real.

The danger of drunk driving doesn’t change based on the number of dead bodies discovered AFTER the crash.  It’s threat, and the criminal conduct, happens the instant the drunk driver gets behind the wheel.  That’s the point where conduct must be changed.  And this law does absolutely nothing about it.  It’s a joke, a cynical joke, that our fine New York politicians are playing on the public.  It will not save a single life.  It will, however, give the appearance of assuaging those who mourn the subsequent loss.

Why do I write “give the appearance?”  Because I know, as does any lawyer who has labored in cases where an innocent person died, that the imprisonment of the defendant will never fill the void, or overcome the grief, caused by the loss.  The survivors think it will, and hope it does.  But it won’t, and they will find the conviction a hollow victory that doesn’t bring back their loved one.  It just compounds the misery.