We were troubled to learn about an alleged shooting incident that occurred in Brattleboro on Sept. 15, and not just because using a firearm to settle a dispute is just plain wrong. We were horrified to learn the alleged gunman took a shot while his victim was standing in front of a playground. If that’s not bad enough, behind an embankment behind the playground is the Green Street School. So not only did this suspect put his alleged victim in harm’s way, he also jeopardized the safety of who knows how many children.
If this person is found guilty of what he stands accused of, we hope this can be factored in during his sentencing.
What we hope is not factored in is that the alleged suspect had a blood alcohol content of . 161, slightly more than twice the legal limit for driving, when he was stopped by police a few minutes after the shooting.
While we know alcohol contributes to a number of stupid actions committed by a number of otherwise responsible people, it’s not an excuse. And neither is anger, a thirst for vengeance or just plain stupidity. But as prosecutors, defense attorneys, jurors, judges, law enforcement agents or observers of the judicial system can attest to, there is never a shortage of anger, vengeance, substance abuse or stupidity in those hauled into court. (There is also no shortage of those with mental illness in the system, but that’s a subject for a different editorial. )
And time and time again, those brought into court have regular relationships with the courts because they continue to wind up on the wrong side of the law. We’re not sure if this is because they feel they are above the law or that they can get away with breaking the law (maybe it’s because of the way Hollywood has glorified petty crime and criminals), or because they just don’t have the mental capacity to adequately evaluate the ramifications of any particular action. Either way, some people just can’t seem to wrap their heads around the concept of how to behave in civilized society.
We here at the Reformer see the names of repeat offenders coming through the fax machine every day -- whether it’s multiple DUIs, domestic assaults, burglaries, robberies, disorderly conducts . . . the list goes on and on -- and many of these people receive slaps on the wrist or very little jail time. We know that our judicial system is complex and weighted toward innocence, and we know that our prisons are flush full up to their fluorescents with petty drug offenders, but those who commit serious and violent crimes against people and our society need to be held accountable and need to be sentenced in a manner that imparts the fateful consequences of lawlessness.
Whether that means asking the Legislature to change sentencing standards or demand that the courts punish the guilty to the full extent of the law, a message needs to be sent.
Unfortunately, the message will be lost on many of those who need it the most; as we’ve noted above, common sense is not abundant in many of those who find themselves in handcuffs.
Another factor that needs to be addressed is how serious are we about rehabilitation and what is the best way to give repeat offenders the intellectual tools they need to stay on the right side of the law? It’s not cheap, but neither is running our judicial system or keeping offenders locked up . . . not to mention the costs in security, safety and sense of well-being in our community as a whole.
But in all reality, despite what we do, whether that’s increased sentencing standards or intensive rehabilitation, there will always be people who just can’t stay on the straight or narrow. That’s who jail should really be for.
~ Brattleboro Reformer