Friday, July 01, 2011

People v. Vangelder (Cal. Ct. App. - July 1, 2011)

Does drinking impair your judgment?  Let's see.

Imagine that you've had quite a bit to drink.  You're hanging out with your son.  What do you think would be the best plan at this point:

(A)  Continue to hang out.  Maybe scale it back a bit.
(B)  Get in your vehicle and drive.

Okay.  Let's assume you're not very bright, and elect (B).  Which of the following seems the most reasonable course of action:

(C)  Drive carefully.  You're likely intoxicated.  Be cautious.
(D)  Crank it up.  To 125 miles per hour.  On the 163 in San Diego.

Terry Vangelder elected both (B) and (D).  He's lucky he didn't kill or seriously injure someone.  At which point I wouldn't be surprised at all if he got a decade in prison.

As it is, he got essentially no penalty.  No jail time.  A suspended sentence.  Even that got reversed on appeal (albeit for a new trial) because the trial court improperly excluded some expert testimony.

For me, this case stands for two propositions.  One, people often make incredibly bad decisions.  Two, our criminal laws make an incredibly powerful distinction between "potential" and "actual" harm, even when the underlying acts are exactly the same.  Terry Vangelder gets lucky and doesn't crash into anyone even though he's going 125 mph.  He gets off with a slap on the wrist.  Other drivers are unlucky and kill someone going 60 mph.  They get thrown into prison for five years.

I'm not at all confident that such a broad disparity is justified.

I know it's the Fourth of July weekend coming up.  So remember:  Make good decisions.  'Cause maybe you'll be lucky like Terry.  Or maybe not.

Better safe than sorry.