Hit and Run Crime Needs to be Punished More Severely
November 3, 2011
Hit and run shatters lives. A traffic ticket is not enough – hit and run needs to be punished at least as severely as driving under the influence of intoxicants. No one who intentionally hospitalizes people with their car should be allowed to drive away – ever.
Table of Contents of Article
1. Proportionality of Punishment: What It Is and Why it Works
2. The Facts of the Past Week
3. Why Hit and Run Needs to be Punished More Severely
1.) Proportionality of Punishment
The practice of punishing crime according to its perceived severity is called proportionality of punishment, and it deters against people committing worse crimes. For example, if a person robs a store, proportionality of punishment creates an incentive to not shoot people during the robbery – murder and attempted murder are worse crimes than armed robbery.
A second example: If a person is driving with something to hide – a DUI, suspended license, open arrest warrant, etc., – then the driver is incentivized to escape accidents and commit hit and run, unless hit and run is punished more severely. If hit and run isn’t punished more severely, it provides material reward for people to commit more serious crimes.
There are other scenarios which incentivize a driver to run:
“If a suspect of a crime flees, committing a drunk hit-and-run, and is able to sober-up before being located, they will incur less penalty than if they stayed on the scene. Wisconsin has attempted to close the gap in this loophole. Where DUIs and homicide would incur a penalty of 25+ years of imprisonment, they have adjusted the hit-and-run and homicide combination to also warrant at least 25 years of imprisonment.” (source)
A policy change similar to the Wisconsin legislation shown here is recommended for every level of government. Hit and run needs to be at least as seriously punished as DUIs.
Proportionality of punishment only works only when citizens are aware of the punishment structure, because people need to know the full consequences for their actions.
Proportionality of punishment is and old, engrained idea for many people, but it was a mere pipe dream last night in Oakland, Calif., USA.
2.) The Facts of the past Week
Hit and run is defined (here) as failure to immediately stop upon an accident – even if the driver is not at fault.
Around 8 pm at 11th and Broadway November 2, 2011 in Oakland, a white Mercedes encountered an enormous chain of #occupiers embarking on the long walk from downtown to the port, both of which were closed for the day due to the #occupy-led General Strike. After waiting through multiple traffic light cycles for pedestrian traffic to clear, the driver of the white Mercedes did not drive the five blocks north to detour around the demonstration. Instead, the car grew impatient and inched forward on protesters, angering one who pounded on the hood. The driver then gunned the engine and accelerated, intentionally hitting two and dragging one 30 feet, in an apparent attempt to get away, or worse, retaliate against the hood being slapped by the pedestrian. A critical mass of other protesters angrily blocked the car’s exit across Broadway, bravely risking their own lives to encircle the driver.
Police arrived, assessed the scene and made no arrests. After trying to switch seats with his girlfriend in an apparent attempt to blame his lover for his own crime, the driver sped off to the crowd’s immediately furious surprise – if the driver wasn’t even arrested, why did the protesters bother stopping him? So he could get a traffic ticket?
By contrast, protesters have received beanbag rounds, tear gas, pepper balls, m80 flash bang grenades, and so on. Three blocks from the hit and run and 8 days earlier, Scott Olsen had his skull fractured by a police-fired projectile, and his only crime was refusing to move.
Olsen is improving, and can read and listen – but he cannot write, nor can he speak. The lead filled police beanbag round damaged Olsen’s speech abilities.
Mayor Jean Quan is everyone’s favorite scapegoat. At best, Quan has negligently handled this situation, and multiple times she has switched her effective policy on violence toward peaceful demonstrators. It’s as if she wants to lure #occupiers back into the park so she can tear gas them out again.
3.) Why Hit and Run Needs to be Punished More Severely
This is a demonstration of failed proportionality. Peaceful demonstrators, standing in the street, even blocking traffic – which is a serious safety hazard, and against the law – is nowhere near as heinous as hit and run crime. Hit and run transforms real people into victims. Hit and run is the scariest worst-case scenario for any healthy adult in this country. Any hit and run is an attack on the safety of us all, because not only does it shatter lives, but it rewards drivers for avoiding responsibility for their own actions, and incentivizes repeat offenses.
Hit and run crime goes against our ethical, moral and philosophical foundations in every way possible, and is beyond a doubt the most heinous traffic crime that a person can commit. Severe, maximum punishments need to be sought for hit and run drivers, at least equal to that of DUIs.
Because so few hit and run drivers are ever arrested, they must be punished more severely when they are caught.
If there’s no added severity of punishment, there’s no reason (aside from a morality which is weak or nonexistent by assumption) that would cause a slightly drunk driver to stay at the scene. Proportionality of punishment requires that hit and run is punished more severely than protesting, and at least as severely as DUI.
Hit and run is a patently more heinous crime than blocking traffic, but you wouldn’t know that based on the way cops treat the crimes in Oakland.
Spectrum of Proportionality
3 crimes are on this spectrum, which separates them based on severity – 1. peaceful protest and blocking traffic; 2. DUI; 3. Hit and run.
Blocking the flow of traffic impairs emergency services, and inconveniences drivers, but falls short of actually damaging property or life – therefore, it is the least severe crime of the three. Second is DUI, which does not always create a victim, but does place life and property in serious danger, and often does result in loss of life. But because DUIs are most serious when they end in hit and run, crime three (hit and run) essentially assumes the role of elemental heinousness. No traffic crime is more serious or should be punished more severely.
Proportionality is the foundation of a justice system. With overcrowded jails and medieval drug policy, the State of California is a microcosm as it punishes #occupy protesters with rubber bullets, but hit and run drivers with traffic tickets. Should these events serve as an audit of larger systemic patterns in the justice system, that justice system appears to be collapsing in a free fall.
These protests have exposed serious problems in our government, and for that we can thank #occupiers, who risk their own lives and safety for their beliefs, and for justice.
Hit and Run Facts
There are 1,500 hit and run deaths annually in the US. 18% of hit and runs are fatalities, implying that there are over 8,000 hit and runs per year in the US. (citation)
This is a good proportionality description from lawyers.com.
In 2008, I witnessed a hit and run. A white pick up truck turned left quickly through an intersection without looking and hit 3 pedestrians, took them out of their shoes, drove over them and paused for a moment. I could almost make out his license plate, but naively assumed he’d get out and help. He waited for about 10 seconds and then drove away. About 50 other people saw the incident, and a few cab drivers followed him.
Even though I’m not a victim, I’m still a passionate advocate against hit and run, and I feel the need to speak out about this. There’s little other crime more worthy of police attention.