Sentencing Sexting

On Monday former Congressman Anthony Weiner was sentenced to spend 21 months in federal prison for sexting with a minor.  He broke down and cried when the sentence was delivered.  Weiner, who had pleaded guilty to the offense, also was fined $10,000, will have to register as a sex offender, and will be subject to three years of supervised release after his prison term ends.

anthony-weiner-e4a324c0-fc5d-49b2-ac42-0b7f99f8b6e5Weiner’s lawyers had argued that he should receive only probation, contending that the case involved unusual facts and circumstances and that Weiner had made “remarkable progress” through participation in a treatment program for the past year.  After the sentence was announced, the lawyers contended that the punishment was more severe than it had to be.

The federal judge explained her sentence by noting that sexting with a minor is “a serious crime that deserves serious punishment.”  She added that Weiner’s notoriety was an significant part of the sentence — because people have paid attention to his conduct and his case, the sentence provided an opportunity to send a message that could change lives.  And Weiner could have received even more prison time.  The offense to which he pleaded guilty carries a maximum prison term of 10 years, and the sentence imposed by the judge was at the low end of the range suggested by federal prosecutors.

I think the judge got this one exactly right.  Weiner’s record of repetitive misbehavior shows an escalating pattern, and his conduct with the 15-year-old girl was reprehensible.  And it is important to use the sentence to send a message, on several levels — it not only notifies people that sexting with a minor will be sternly punished, but also shows that the politically powerful are subject to justice to the same extent as the rest of us.  In a time when politicians seem increasingly to live in their own secure little bubbles, distant and disconnected from the real world, the message that they will be held accountable for their illegal actions is an especially important one.

10 DUIs, Then Life

In Texas, a man who pleaded guilty to his 10th DUI offense was sentenced to life in prison.  Is that sentence excessive?  After all, the driver wasn’t acting with the intent to harm anyone.

I don’t think such sentences are excessive.  There’s no doubt that driving while drunk is dangerous to the public at large.  Thousands die every year from accidents involving drunk drivers.  And while people might argue that an initial offense deserves some leniency — because the person might not be aware of their blood alcohol levels, or the degree of their impairment, or the risks — you simply cannot justify repeated offenses.

drunkdriverThe Texas man who pled guilty to his 10th offense, for example, was found swerving back and forth and driving on the wrong side of the road.  He had served time for his prior offenses, in both Texas and Colorado, and he nevertheless admitted to police officers that he had consumed most of a bottle of whiskey found in his car and then getting behind the wheel.  A person like that simply has no regard for the safety of the general public, and is engaging in recidivist conduct that exposes his fellow citizens to unreasonable risk.  Indeed, you might consider the repeat offenses to be a kind of perverse cry for help.

Drunk driving is one of those areas where society has seen a sea change in prevailing views.  People used to make jokes about drunk drivers, and police officers used to escort the over-the-limit driver home, rather than taking them to jail.  No longer — and for good reason.  Drunk drivers who are repeat offenders are dangerous to themselves and to the rest of us.  When someone has had nine prior offenses and still has not learned their lesson, I have no problem with saying that they deserve to spend their life behind bars.

Science Behind Bars

In Italy, failing to accurately predict an earthquake apparently is a crime.

Six scientists and a government official were convicted in an Italian court of multiple counts of manslaughter for giving a falsely reassuring statement about a possible earthquake and were sentenced to six years in prison.  The scientists were consulted after tremors were felt in L’Aquila.  At a meeting, they told officials that a major earthquake was not impossible, but it was not likely.  Unfortunately for the scientists, a few days later a massive earthquake struck, killing more than 300 people and leaving the area in ruins.  Prosecutors alleged that many of the casualties stayed in their homes due to the scientists’ advice and died when the buildings collapsed, whereas people who stayed outside survived the upheaval.

The astonishing verdict and sentence have been greeted with richly deserved outrage.  It also is an embarrassment for Italy, the home of the Renaissance and scientific pioneers like Galileo and Leonardo da Vinci.  It’s hard to imagine any modern, enlightened country concluding that scientists can be criminally punished for expressing their scientific opinion — particularly when it involves predicting something as obviously unpredictable as earthquakes.  What’s next for Italian prosecutors?  Criminal charges for inaccurate weather forecasters?

Clever Convicts

Haven’t people in the Vermont prison system watched The Shawshank Redemption?

In Vermont, prisoners are responsible for producing the decals that are attached to the sides of the patrol cars.  The decals include some snow-capped mountains, a cow, and a pine tree, among other items — about what you would expect for Vermont.

One enterprising prisoner — perhaps named Andy? — decided it might be a good jest to tinker with the design.  So, he went into the computer file from which the decals were printed and changed one of the cow’s spots to give it a distinctly porcine appearance, no doubt humming Piggies from the Beatles’ White Album as he did so.  The State Police used the cars with the decals for months before somebody noticed the unwanted modification.

In view of this incident, the Vermont prison system might want to check to be sure that no prisoners are performing bookkeeping services for wardens or asking for a rock hammer and posters of Rita Hayworth and Raquel Welch.