Crime and Punishment

Imagine a headline in the newspaper that said “Arsonist sentenced to 18 months for fatal fire”. Imagine if the accompanying article indicated that this arsonist had been convicted several times before for setting fires that didn’t kill anyone. Imagine if he asked for clemency based on the fact that he didn’t know anyone was home, so the death was an accident. Imagine that he tried to explain his behaviour by saying that he was deeply depressed after losing his job.

How would you react? “String the bastard up!” you might say. But what if you replace “arson” with “drunk driving” and “fire” with “crash”? Will you react the same way? If not, then why not? Because let’s face it, the above story has happened before with drunk drivers, and on many occasions.

For some reason, we as a society have collectively decided that drunk drivers cannot be held fully responsible for the results of their actions, in the way that an arsonist would be. They stand up in court and say things like “I can’t help myself” or “I will never do this again” and “I have made mistakes, but I am a good husband and father” and people cut them slack.

But why? This is something I have wrestled with for a while, and I cannot come up with a good reason for the double-standard. If anyone else has any ideas, let me know. Because for all the outrage and anger and calls for change that I hear after a homicide, I just don’t see the same kind of reaction to drunk drivers. And drunk drivers kill more people than murderers every year in this country. Do you think their dead victims feel better knowing that they were killed by a drunk instead of a robber?

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3 Responses to Crime and Punishment

  1. Dill says:

    Speaking as someone who has been drunk exactly one time in their lives, there’s no excuse. I could barely walk straight that night. To get behind the wheel of a car in that condition is nothing short of sociopathism.

  2. Winston Blake says:

    One reason i can think of for the double standard is simply that the people listening to the drunk driver realise that when they went out drinking last week, this might’ve happened to them (or someone they know). An arsonist evokes a ‘That guy could’ve set /my/ shit on fire’ response, whereas a drunk driver evokes a ‘That guy could’ve been my mate Barry’ response.

  3. devildog2033 says:

    Bullshit. There’s no excuse. I am what you would call an “over-drinker”, in fact, if I started causing problems for friends or family they might consider me an alcoholic. Not that I am proud of my love of beer (well, a little) but just to put it in perspective. I don’t know if it was the way I was raised, or just seeing how miserable people are that get caught with a DUI, but I have NEVER felt the urge to get behind the wheel when drunk. I have been foolish enough to get into a car with someone who had been drinking more than they should have, but my crutch is that that I was drunk, I didn’t know. Here’s my point, I say string them up. I don’t care how “off” someone’s judgement is- we ALL know better, and at least in our generation have been told so from elementary school. In fact, I feel more empathy for that douchebag who lost all his money in the stock market, and then offed his family and himself. I just wish he would have cut out the middle-people and done himself in alone somewhere.

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