It is often noted that Americans live in a very litigious society. This criticism is typically leveled at frivolous tort cases and ambulance-chasing trial lawyers, but it extends equally to the legislators who write unnecessary laws and the government agents such as district attorneys, judges and police who enforce them.
The U.S. has the largest incarceration rate in the world, aided by the prevalence of victimless crimes (particularly nonviolent drug crimes) and a predilection for incarceration as primary option for punishment. But while there may be a strong drive to “do something” when someone is harmed by another, locking people up is oftentimes not in the interest of justice. Perhaps this is best illustrated in cases involving accidents, especially when those at fault are family members.
In one high-profile example, just last month an 18-year-old woman was arrested on suspicion of gross vehicular manslaughter and drunk driving after she crashed her car in Merced County, killing her 14-year-old sister, who was not wearing a seatbelt and was ejected from the vehicle. The case received heightened attention because the accident was captured in a graphic livestreamed video recording on Instagram, which showed her fatally wounded sister lying in a grassy field.
Last year, a 53-year-old Arkansas man was charged with felony manslaughter for the death of his 4-year-old grandson, who was killed in an accident while mowing some brush on the family ranch. A tractor tire hit a hole in the ground and the boy fell off the tractor and was run over by the mower.
Then there are the instances where distracted or forgetful parents have been charged for the death of a child inadvertently left in a hot — or even mildly warm — vehicle.
I cannot imagine how those at fault in the cases above will be able to deal with what they have done. That torturous guilt is a greater punishment than any that could be inflicted by a judge and prosecutor.
A family is only doubly punished, however, when a second family member is taken from it, this time by the state, to waste away in prison. It is as much a punishment to the other victims — the remaining children, who must grow up without a mother or father, or the spouse, who is now rendered a single parent who must support the rest of the family alone — as it is to the one at fault. In an added cruel twist, the family is forced to support these efforts to further tear it apart through their taxes.
In such cases, society is…