Thursday, August 20, 2009

A Tale of Two Felons

Upon entering a swanky Upper West Side Latin Club, Plaxico Burress reaches to tuck his unregistered handgun further into his pants and ends up inadvertantly shooting himself in the leg, ala Cheddar Bob. His teammate and close friend, Antonio Pierce, rushes him to the hospital and provides them with a fake name for his Super-Bowl-winning-touchdown-grabbing friend who wants to remain anonymous due to the aforementioned status of his chosen weaponry.

Driving down a busy Miami thoroughfare early one Saturday morning in March, a drunk and high Donte Stallworth struck and killed a pedestrian jay-walking trying to catch the 7am bus to go to his construction job. According to witnesses, Burress flashed his high beams at the man to tell him that the train was coming through, but recklessly swerved around a car in front of him to beat the approaching red light (ran it) and then plowed his Bentley into a man's soon-to-be-twisted-mangle of body.

For the last year, NYC Mayor Bloomberg has been running for re-election as mayor. He called for the DA to throw the book at Plaxi and make an example out of him. While the prison's in NY are already overfilled with violent offenders, Bloomberg wanted to send a message to people that guns are simply not allowed in the city's five boroughs without proper licensing and training. Today Plaxi plead guilty to attempted criminal possession of a weapon and was sentenced to two years in prison. He was facing a minimum of three and one half years in prison.

In June of this year, Stallworth plead guilty to his crime of DUI manslaughter and was facing fifteen years in prison. He received thirty days and was even released two days early for good behavior. He did reach a settlement with the family of the departed, rumored to be north of $10 million.

The idea that the justice system should be used to exemplify offenders only works if that system is ubiquitous across the country at all levels. With the killing of Nick Adenhart and his friends just a few weeks after Stallworth's accident, one would think that a judge or county attorney would want to make an example out of Stallworth since one of his fellow pro athletes was involved on the other side of one of the downsides to DUI. But you know what, that of course makes ZERO sense. They are not even remotely connected as individuals or circumstances. That is the exact same thing that we have with Stallworth and Burress - yes, of course, Stallworth should have been sentenced to longer in prison but it is not fair to either men to compare their two distinctly different situations. Unfortunately, our justice system is not set up to award the appropriate amount of punishments across the board. Some wealthy baby boomers in the Midwest have been sentenced to longer in prison for funding marijuana grow-houses than some murderers have.

Now, is this "fair?"

The question of fairness should not be answered with strictly the level of punishment. I agree with Bloomberg for sentencing Burress to two years in prison - not to make an example out of him for carrying an unregistered handgun, but for being so irresponsible and careless with his weapon that he shot himself with it. This behavior leads me (and apparently Bloomberg) to believe that someone who does not have any respect for a dangerous weapon can be himself a danger to society and he deserves to be sent away from it.

The Stallworth case is more complex because while he was acting recklessly by drinking and smoking before getting into his car and by swerving around a car in front of him to beat a red light, his actions were more of a direct cause of his immaturity level. Burress thought he was being responsible by carrying a gun even though he obviously had no idea how to use it. He was a danger to anyone around him at all times. Stallworth made a very poor decision that night to drink and drive, but he was not entirely at fault either. Unfortunately, the person he hit was running in front of traffic and could have been hit by any number of motorists if they tried to beat the red light. This explains why his extraneous punishments (the enormous settlement money, two years of house arrest, eight years probation, 1000 hours of community service) were handed down on top of the seemingly light prison sentence. Perhaps Stallworth should have been sentenced to up to a year in jail, but I do not believe that he is as dangerous as Burress and so I support Burress going to prison for longer.

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