Criminal Justice

Alan Dershowitz takes a law-and-order stand against reckless drivers

Alan Dershowitz has had some high-profile roles as a defense lawyer, but he is taking a stand for law and order in an opinion piece calling for vigorous prosecution of reckless drivers.

Only about 5 percent of New York City drivers who kill pedestrians are charged with serious crimes, the former Harvard law professor says in his article for the New York Daily News. One problem he says, citing information from the Wall Street Journal, is that New York’s vehicular homicide and manslaughter laws apply only to drivers who are drunk or on drugs. Another problem, he surmises, is that no one seems to care about drunk driving until someone is killed.

Dershowitz says the issue is important to him because his sister-in-law was killed by a mail truck driver who was charged with leaving the scene of an accident. The driver was acquitted in September 2012.

“The law, and those who are supposed to enforce it, are not doing their job in deterring dangerous driving because reckless drivers have little to fear from persisting in their potentially lethal behavior,” Dershowitz writes. “This breakdown reflects a larger moral conundrum: How should the law deal with conduct that causes lethal results in only a small percentage of cases?”

One possibility, Dershowitz concludes, is vigorous enforcement. “Clearly the law would buy more deterrent bang for the buck if it vigorously prosecuted every reckless driver, regardless of whether they happen to kill,” he says. But Dershowitz acknowledges it could be difficult to prove the point at which bad driving becomes criminally reckless.

One compromise would be to authorize vehicular homicide charges for additional dangerous activities, such as texting and speeding, he says. Another improvement, he says, would be to issue “more frequent and expensive tickets” for dangerous moving violations. He notes a plan by Mayor Bill de Blasio to increase enforcement against dangerous moving violations, which would partly rely on red-light and speed cameras. The privacy intrusion, Dershowitz concludes, is outweighed by the safety concern.

Hat tip to Pat’s Papers.

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