Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Waters and B. Oshiro consider jail terms for negligent drivers

Rep. Tommy Waters, Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Blake Oshiro, Judiciary Vice Chair, told The Advertiser that they will consider mandatory minimum jail terms for drivers found guilty of negligently killing pedestrians. In the third part of a Rob Perez series, they say:

"When there's a loss of life, it's not unreasonable to expect mandatory jail," said Waters, the Judiciary chairman. Waters and Oshiro, the vice chairman, said the Legislature historically has been reluctant to impose mandatory minimums because that infringes on the discretion of judges, who can evaluate all the evidence in a case and decide an appropriate sentence.

"Justice isn't a cookie-cutter process," Oshiro said. "It's not a one-size-fits-all for every situation."


The Judiciary vice chairman said he intends to introduce a bill next session that would establish a mandatory minimum jail term and prohibit the issuing of deferred-acceptance pleas. Such a bill likely would face difficult odds, based on the Legislature's past reluctance to erode judges' discretion in deciding sentences.

One of the few times in recent years that the Legislature successfully has delved into that arena was in 2006, when law enforcement officials lobbied for mandatory jail time for people convicted of electronic enticement of minors. The sex-crimes bill, which was signed into law, established a mandatory minimum of one year in jail. This year, the law was revised to require a 10-year prison term without probation. Oshiro said legislators adopted the original measure after prosecutors produced data showing people convicted of such crimes overwhelmingly were getting no jail time, indicating a systemic problem in the courts.

Oshiro believes the newspaper's fatality findings likewise suggest a systemic problem. But others expressed reservations about adopting mandatory minimums. While Waters said it's not unreasonable to expect jail time in negligent homicide cases, he questioned whether changing the law would prompt drivers to alter their behavior. He said he has seen no behavior changes since the Legislature in 2005 passed a law requiring drivers to stop rather than yield whenever a pedestrian is in a crosswalk in the driver's side of the road. In 2007, legislators upped the fine for first-time infractions to $150, from less than $100.

"I don't think that's done a darn thing," Waters said. "People still don't stop."

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