Justice or Hanging the Failures of Everyone on One Person?

    

It seems we can’t go a month without hearing news including the phrase texting and the latest stupid thing someone tried to do while being glued to their electronics; whether that’s texting and driving, the new ban on texting and walking or the new scrambler parents can get that plugs into the same place mechanics check a car’s emissions, immediately disabling texting while the car is in motion. And when a teen became the first to be charged with homicide in the death of a middle aged man surrounding an accident where the driver was suspected of texting, it was deemed a wakeup call to all of us the consequences of such reckless behavior; upon being found guilty sentenced to 2 years in prison and a 15 year loss of the young man’s license it was heralded as a message that the American justice system had finally caught on to this dangerous trend, tolerating it no longer. The news segment announcing the verdict also noted one states crack down now making it illegal to drive while sleepy carrying the same type of penalty if you are in an accident and subsequently charged. But was it justice; is it fair to charge this particular man with homicide, convict him forever changing his life, not only in the prison sentence but the felony record he will carry once his time is served? Yes a person died, yes that is tragic and of course the person responsible should be held accountable. However questions remain, chief among them would the charge have been so harrowing if texting had not been perceived as the probable cause; more importantly was texting actually the main factor in the fatal crash?

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 Too many things about this case smack of taking a hard line to look proactive, cutting edge on a controversial, public outcry issue too often at the expense of common sense, never mind justice. According to the publicized facts of the case the driver received 2 text messages at 2:34 and 2:35 the accident occurring at 2:36, yet he maintained he was not texting while driving, before or during the accident, despite deleting 2 messages just after it happened. What was seemingly missed by the court, the news and anyone following the case is receiving a text message is not the same as creating or sending a message. You can receive a text message without ever looking at your phone, without it being in your hand, whether you’re driving or not; unless you take apart court transcripts, you won’t know if he looked at his phone when he was alerted to the messages, if that caused him to turn his attention away from the road or if the alert startled him being another potential cause of the deadly accident. Further being members of the public, sans digging into court records we don’t know if prosecutors asked either of those questions, if the defense brought it up as a counter to the prosecutorial assumptions. As for the messages he supposedly deleted, if the alert was still beeping or playing music, he may have deleted them to shut it up so he could talk to the cops, deleted them because they weren’t nearly as important as what had just occurred in front of him, they may have been a welcome distraction from the horrific scene, something his in shock mind latched onto to give him something to do. It doesn’t mean he created or sent the messages, planned to; not to mention a forensic computer, electronics specialist should have been able to recover the phone’s deleted messages to determine if the driver was their creator, sender or not. Added to that, had any of the last sentence been the case surely news outlets would have reported the findings not just the deletion of said messages; instead it appears the prosecution attempted to paint the 18 year old as a liar based on his receipt of messages and possible deletion of others.

Almost a footnote in news broadcasts post the landmark verdict is that even though this teenager was 18, he had only had his license for a few months; so inexperience on the road is another piece of our puzzle as to how one victim ended up dead and someone else severely injured by a young person who repeatedly claimed he wasn’t texting. During a police video interview he similarly freely admitted to being tired, being distracted, though it is unclear by what, admits to looking away for a second, what possible reason could he have, after admitting all that, to lie about the texting, unless he wasn’t texting but receiving text messages only. In fact entered into evidence were the nearly 200 text messages logged on his phone that day; not presented were which messages he sent and which ones he received, any proof he lied and was using his phone at the time of the accident, evidence that should have been in the texting logs under sent messages, replies. Rather than demonstrating solid proof it looks as if conjecture was enough, not only that he texted just before the crash, then lied about it but likewise implying that the 200 messages found were all made around the time he ended up killing a person via his car, contrary to the reality; they were a total number of messages he sent/received the entire day up to that point. Now you bring bigger elements, bias, example making; his lawyer has maintained throughout the case that police always wanted to make it about texting and driving when it really wasn’t. Here there’s a distinct possibility cops saw a teen, found him in possession of a phone and jumped to conclusions; the D.A., county prosecutor, whomever following the bandwagon, essentially punishing him for having a phone that functioned as designed in a crash where he clearly stated he swerved into the opposite lane to avoid rear-ending the car in front of him, prompting people to wonder what was the car in front of him doing, do they bear minor responsibility in the ultimate outcome? Facts likewise in that statement disprove a common public perception, prosecutor planted idea, painting a picture as follows; he was so distracted texting a nonsense, unimportant message he swerved into another lane causing a crash crumpling the victims into their now mangled car.

To be scrutinized as well is who was made an example out of when deciding how to prosecute what was thought to be a case of homicide caused by texting and driving; Massachusetts prosecutors chose to stiffen the charge on a teen based on the probable cause of the accident being texting while driving, vs. the number of 30- 40 year old businessmen and women who blatantly think their business is more important than the other people on the road, the 30-40 year old people who have had a license and been driving as many or more years than our young man has been alive, any one of those same 30-40 year old people who admit to texting or otherwise using their phone immediately prior to the crash, usually utterly hysterical about what they have done, Massachusetts’ legal system decided to throw the book at an 18 year old who has had his license mere months, who unlike multiple members of the list above doesn’t/didn’t have a stack of tickets for the same offense, no evidence he had previously almost gotten into an accident because of his phone. Frankly they didn’t prove their case and the young man should have been acquitted because yes they proved negligence, facts never really in doubt, but they failed to prove their stated cause for that negligence, the whole of their argument centered around an explanation saying the charge is this heavy because he chose to engage in such a known dangerous activity during the operation of a motor vehicle, facts they did not show, certainly not beyond a shadow of a doubt. We are lead to wonder if he had been eating a cheeseburger, adjusting his radio or air conditioning, had he had his hands white knuckled at 10:00 and 2:00, had no phone on him, when cops arrived at the scene, would it be more than a mention on the local news, would he have been subject to the felony that will now follow him for the rest of his life?  History of driving cases leans toward no.  Next their argument that he lied, potentially tried to cover up his phone activity can be explained by earlier thoughts in the piece, just one of many explanations for why he allegedly deleted texts, once more receiving a text is not the same as typing one while driving, sending one while driving or looking at your phone while driving.

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Public outcry is no help either to spreading awareness or preventing the problem over and over comments about the case say he should go to jail for 15 years, lose his license for 1; murderer and premeditated murder are charges they think should be leveled at him for so willfully doing something that resulted in the death of a fellow human being. It’s abundantly clear the case was won based on the emotional testimony of the surviving victim, the relatives of the diseased coupled with everyone’s collective experiences involving distracted drivers seen or presumed to be on their phones; there is no such thing as an unbiased jury with something like that. They and the public failing to understand the details explain in the paragraph above; living in the age of CSI, technical proof still no one is clamoring for proof he did what they said he did behind the wheel. Many wagged their finger at his apology, his claim he made a mistake, his declaration he would take it back if he could, uttering ah ha’s saying there’s the proof he lied; if he wasn’t texting what mistake did he make, what would he take back? Hmm, perhaps being tired and on the road, his distraction caused by other factors; perhaps he wants to take back the cold, hard truth someone died because of him, another someone has life altering injuries, all things we would think ourselves put in his shoes. Unfortunately for both him and anyone who comes after him, people heard texting and driving, and they hated him, they found out he was a teen, thought disgustingly typical, upon hearing the charges they cheered, thinking good someone is going to throw the book at him, hearing the verdict, disappointed he’s not going to jail for 10-20 years, whining he got a slap on the wrist, without ever stopping to listen to the facts, to see if  the case rang true, if the state leveling the charges was credible in their account of what they believe happened. Had they done so, the masses would have seen a young man served up to people with legal pitchforks, on trial for every person’s stupidity while driving, not just his own.    

Further this is a precedent setting case, it made headlines because of that alone paving the way for more cases like it to be leveled at distracted drivers, and while it may well be about time, if this case is any indication of how future cases will be tried, we are all in trouble. Trouble, not just because of all the distracting, stupid, inattentive things we do behind the wheel, but because in these instances, contrary to the philosophy of the justice system, you are guilty until proven innocent, there is almost no way to prove that innocence and there is no longer a reasonable guarantee a jury will look at your case within the rules of logic or the legal parameters set before them. Plus, lawyers trying the case had a misdemeanor option at their disposal; fine put him in jail for 1- year, 5 years, 10, but by charging him under the felony version, they have turned an 18 year old into a statistical degenerate. Smart members of the public quickly point out that between the felony and the 15 year license suspension he has no hope of getting a job, forget career, because of the felony conviction he may be denied financial aid to attend school, so there goes the higher education; those worried by the small amount of jail time needn’t be; his next stop will be the social prison of no job, no education, spending the rest of his life unable to live down a horrible mistake, making him all the more likely to become a recidivist, possible permanent resident of the justice system. No matter how stiff the penalty, or not, it does nothing to solve the underlying problem, the causes of distracted driving, not just the instant communication LOL we think we have to send so our friends don’t think they hate us, but something personified in a comment posted on parents.com, in response to the verdict: Can a driver purchase a vehicle cell phone block so one’s boss can not [SIC] call one while driving? New cars should have some little device that prevents distracted driving.

Too much of the reason for distracted driving has been pawned off on teens, 20 something’s, individuals who “can’t put down their technology” because they are addicted to it, feel lost, naked, nervous without it, completely ignoring bosses who are constantly checking on employees, in need of constant feedback, updates who will reprimand employees, suggest they are not cut out for the position if they do not answer. Also ignored are the employers who are trying to survive in businesses made all the more fast paced in the age of instant communication, event planners, personal assistants running between jobs sites, errands, the self-employed trying to get a business off the ground who are their own receptionist exc. Outside of that we conveniently forget the number of hours people spend commuting to and from work, how many hours they spend at work so they are spending their lunch break driving to a meeting burger in hand talking to their young child, the only chance they get as the child will be in bed by the time they get home. On the way home from work they speak to their spouse so that they can put the kids to bed and get some much needed rest, again going to sleep before or shortly after you get home; on the way home you’re ordering things via your smart phone, to get it done during store hours, due to having to go home cook dinner, try to spend time with your kids. Welcome to what women have been doing for 40 plus years, balancing work and home responsibilities. All above scenarios coinciding with this right to drive attitude people disgustedly attribute to everyone today; driving may not be a right however, yet it is a huge necessity, just like shelter clothing, food, safety. In fact it is a building block to many of those things when you need a job to pay for most of it, when walking to and from work can be hazardous in some areas owing to high volume traffic, when a startling number of jobs in basic things like reception require a driving license, vehicle, good driving record or all 3, instances where public transit is no help. And in today’s economy even if cities have good public transit systems, they can sometimes conflict with graveyard shifts, odd hour shifts people are forced to take to be employed. Until we fix these things, we’ll see more saddening headlines like this.    

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About Natasha Sapp

Proclaiming an edgy voice of reason to America,while bringing back the common sense to social issues.

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