Our opinion: A poor compromise
We believe state Rep. Dave Reed, R-Indiana, had a good idea last year when he proposed increasing the mandatory minimum penalty for high-and-run drivers to three years in jail.
Unfortunately, some state senators disagreed, and the proposal died. The senators were worried that it might overcrowd the state’s prison system. In a compromise, the offense was made a second-degree felony, rather than a third-degree felony, with a maximum of 10 rather than seven years, but the one-year mandatory sentence remained unchanged.
Like most compromises, the final result was a step in the right direction, but avoided part of the problem.
Some prosecutors are concerned that the difference in minimum sentence for someone convicted of leaving the scene of a personal injury or fatal accident for someone who is sober at the time and the minimum for someone who is under the influence at the time encourages drunk drivers to leave the scene. If they get away and sober up, they can only be charged with leaving the scene and thus avoid a three-year minimum sentence.
Leaving the scene of an accident involving injury or death, whether drunk or sober, involves a callous disreagard for life.
As Luzerne County First Assistant District Attorney Sam Sanguedoce pointed out, the increase to a maximum of 10 years in prison may never be reached in most cases because it is so far away from the standard range that most judges would not impose it.
While there are plans by Sen. Mike Stack, D-Philadelphia to reintroduce a proposal to impose a mandatory one-year minimum sentence in cases of serious personal injury and three years for a fatality, we don’t understand the division. Leaving the scene when the other driver and/or passengers are injured is just as callous as leaving behind someone without a pulse.
We believe that Reed’s ill-fated bill would have taken the additional necessary step to remove the incentive of drunk drivers to run.