Sometimes events happen in our lives that are so horrible that they scar us permanently. Educationalist Kevin Donnelly, a sometime guest blogger here at Troppo, and his family have had just such an experience. Kevin’s son James was killed in a hit-and-run road accident some 3 years ago. The killer was eventually caught after conspiring with his parents to cover up his actions. He was sentenced a couple of days ago to a little over 2 years imprisonment, but with a non-parole period of just 10 months.
Not surprisingly, Kevin is calling on the Victorian DPP to appeal the sentence (which the DPP is currently reviewing). But perhaps Kevin should instead be questioning why the offender (one Phillip Josefski) wasn’t charged with manslaughter by culpable driving or some similar charge. That might have left greater scope for a longer sentence. It appears that Josefski was only charged with failing to stop after an accident, failing to render assistance, and conspiring to pervert the course of justice. One would suspect that the “tariffs” for those crimes may be substantially less than for culpable driving.
Was there a plea bargain negotiated? Or did Josefski’s fleeing the accident scene and covering up his behaviour for 2 years result in there being insufficient evidence to sustain a culpable driving charge? In any event, I would imagine that the “tariff” for a conspiracy conviction ought still to have been sufficient to allow the trial judge to impose a significantly longer non-parole period than 10 months.
Despite the increasing frequency of Victim Impact Statements in the sentencing process, most judges still appear to concentrate their attention on the offender and his prospects of rehabilitation. They fail to acknowledge or even understand that their own actions in imposing excessively lenient sentences directly impact the already-suffering family of the victim, and further traumatise them at a very vulnerable time in their lives. Why is their well-being so much less important to the criminal justice system than that of the offender who took their son’s life? What they (and the broader community) need is an acknowledgment that society valued the life of their loved one and that the community will do everything it reasonably can to redress the dreadful wrong that has been done. That isn’t hateful “vengeance”, as criminal defence lawyers invariably seek to style the reactions of victims and families who dare to protest against lenient sentencing. It’s simply true restorative justice; an acknowledgment that the criminal justice system involves numerous stakeholders and that the community’s sense of just desserts and the victim’s family’s need for tangible acknowledgment of the value of their loved one’s life are factors at least as important as the well-being of the offender.
My deepest sympathies to Kevin Donnelly and his family.