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Criminal sentence in fatal crash disappoints family

The criminal court system is designed to impose penalties when people break the law. This serves several purposes. It acts as a deterrent so that people who might otherwise consider breaking the law will decide not to because they are afraid of being caught and punished. Ideally, it can be rehabilitative so that inmates can be taught how to avoid criminal behavior in the future. It also serves the simple purpose of removing, at least temporarily, dangerous persons from the general public in order to keep the public safe.

From a more theoretical or moral perspective, it should serve to impose justice. The criminal justice system should satisfy our moral need for bad or evil deeds to be punished. But the criminal justice system generally does not serve the other side of the justice equation. It does not seek to make whole those that have been injured by the negligent or wrongful acts of others. For that we have the civil courts.

As you surely know, civil courts are where individuals are able to seek to have some wrong committed against them put right. Many times the wrong is not a criminal offense, but was a negligent or reckless action that injured someone else. There are those occasions however when the criminal and civil systems may both apply to the same situation.

Car accidents can be a prime example of this. If a drunk driver kills someone in a car accident, they will face criminal charges and may very well also face a wrongful death lawsuit from the family of the innocent victim.

Considering the coexisting nature of these two systems, it is not surprising that criminal sentences often do not satisfy the need for justice felt by victims and their families. This was certainly true in one recent Michigan case in which a driver had apparently been reaching down for his cell phone when he swerved off the road and fatally struck a pedestrian. While the six month sentence the driver received apparently satisfied the criminal court, how could it ever begin to comfort the family that lost a loved one in the crash.

Source: MLive.com, "Grandmother of Ionia teen killed by state trooper: 'It's not fair'," Zane McMillin, Jan, 31, 2012

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