Does The Punishment Fit The Crime?

Posted on November 12, 2012

In many of the auto accident injury cases that I handle clients sometimes tell me they are looking for “justice.” They may have been hit by a drunk driver or a texting teenager. My client wants to make sure the wrongdoer is held accountable. I do my best to make sure my clients feel that justice is done; however, sometimes I really don’t have the ability to exact the justice the client is looking for. In a civil suit, I have to explain to some clients that the wrongdoer may not be going to jail for causing the accident.

In a civil case, the client is compensated with money – usually money from the wrongdoer’s insurance company. So, the money doesn’t exactly come out of the wrongdoer’s pocket. The wrongdoer may face higher insurance premiums in the future, but sometimes, we ask, did the punishment fit the crime? This is especially true when dealing with a car accident of simple negligence where a death is involved. Not too long ago I handled a fairly routine rear-end car accident where my elderly client ultimately died from a subdural hematoma – from the back of his head hitting the headrest. How do I get justice for that client? The police were not going to lock up the person that caused the accident – because it was just that, an accident.

This topic came to mind today when I read an article about a judge in Price, Utah, who had the defendant to cut her hair in court as a punishment and in order to reduce her sentence. The article is found here in the Deseret News. The story is also being widely reported in national news sources. Basically, the article is about a thirteen-year-old girl in Price that thought it would be “fun” to cut the hair of a three-year-old little girl that she encountered in a local McDonald’s. It’s a bizarre story and you have to wonder what the thirteen-year-old was thinking. She actually left the McDonald’s to buy scissors, and then came back to McDonald’s and cut the little girl’s hair. Read the article for more detail. Anyway, the thirteen-year-old was sent to juvenile court for the crime and was sentenced to 30 days detention, 276 hours community service, and to pay restitution to the victim. The judge offered to reduce the community service by 150 hours if the thirteen-year-old defendant cut off her pony tail right there in court. She agreed. Of course, now the defendant’s mother has filed a complaint against the juvenile court judge. The judge exacted classic biblical justice – an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. What do you think? Typically I’m not in favor of Judge’s getting creative with sentencing, especially if it involves humiliation or corporal punishment. I just think there’s too much risk of abuse of power. But in this case, the more I think about it, the more I agree with the judge. The hair will grow back and hopefully it will teach a memorable lesson to the thirteen-year-old defendant. Sometimes I wish I could give my clients that kind of justice – have the defendant go through exactly what my client has gone through. Anyway, read the article as it will give you something to think about.