Thursday, June 18, 2009

My take on Donte' Stallworth

This is a sports topic in some regard, but it is more of a legal and criminal justice topic. I also realize that this is a very contraversial subject. It is not my intention to ruffle any feathers. Let's just get straight to the facts.

Donte' Stallworth, while drunk, collided with a 59 year old pedestrian and killed the father of one early in the morning (7:15am) in Miami after a night (and part of the morning) of heavy drinking. In addition to 1000 hours of community service, a donation to MADD, 2 years of house arrest and a potential lifetime loss of his driver's license, Stallworth got 30 days in jail after pleading guilty to DUI manslaughter. The prosecutor cited Stallworth's clean record, cooperation with the police and a private settlement with the family of the victim as factors for his unbelievably short and light sentence. Stallworth's BAC when he was pulled over was .123, more than 50% higher than Florida's .08 legal limit. Stallworth has recently been suspended indefinitely by the NFL. He is likely to be cut by the Browns, his current employer.

On the other hand, Michael Vick served 23 months in Federal prison for his participation in a dog fighting ring. No people were killed. No people were hurt. No families were destroyed. Countless millions of dollars in bonus money, endorsements and game checks were and will be lost. Vick may never play in the NFL again. (I said may, relax).

Let's recap, shall we? Stallworth killed a man the night after earning a $4.5 million dollar bonus. Killed a man. As in killed him dead. Vick, directly and indirectly, killed and had killed numerous pit bulls. Look, I love dogs as much as the next guy. But, in no way would I equate the killing of a dog with the killing of a human being. Yes, what Vick did was horrible. Disgusting. Reprehensible.

How does a person who kills another human being get 30 days in jail while a person who killed some dogs get 23 months in Federal prison? Does that not incense anyone else???

I understand that taking responsibility for one's action garners support from the criminal justice system. Staying at the scene of the crime and cooperating with the police are good steps towards taking responsibility for what a person did. But, let's not lose sight of the fact that a man was killed. Killed because he was crossing the street at 7:15am. And because Stallworth was driving after drinking (heavily). Taking a breathalyzer after killing a person does not absolve a person of killing another person. Hello?

19 comments:

Dekalb Gibson said...

(Vik posted this email from Dekalb in response to the post)

I just read your blog post and wanted to respond, but didn't think it would fit into the comment area of blogspot. I have been wanting to voice a lot of this for a while; maybe I should write an editorial. Keep in mind, I am about 12 beers in tonight, so it might get a little incoherent.


Since day one of the entire Mike Vick saga, I have thought he got a raw deal. The D.A. (or whoever it was that prosecuted him) saw an opportunity to make a name for himself and make an example of a high profile superstar and took full advantage of it. Vick, essentially, had his life ruined, by making a decision to fight dogs that is not only accepted, but also encouraged in the community and environment that he grew up in. Leonard LIttle killed a lady while driving drunk, served little (if any) jail time and then after he got out, got another DUI. I think he missed either 4 or 6 games for killing the lady, and none for the second DUI. Now Donte' Stallworth kills a guy and gets off with less than 30 days in jail. It just doesn't make sense.

Meanwhile, former UGA star Odell Thurman is still indefinitely suspended from the league. What has he done? Gotten a DUI and been caught smoking pot twice.
Leonard Little-caught twice for DUI, one time of which he killed a lady.
Odell Thurman- caught once for DUI, and twice for pot. Has never killed anyone.

The problem isn't a sports problem. It isn't an NFL problem. It really isn't exactly even a problem of our legal justice system in America.

The problem is race.

'Cause guess what, suburban white America can deal with the fact that people drive drunk. Suburban white America can't deal with the "gang-banging" lifestyle that leads to a guy getting caught smoking pot while he knows he is going to have to take a drug test. They can't deal with a guy who hangs out with people who have guns and will shoot them if there is a fight at a strip club. I'm not in any way condoning the actions of Pacman Jones, Odell Thurman, Leonard Little, or Donte' Stallworth; I am just saying we should all step outside of the little boxes that we live in when we evaluate them. How many guys do you know, that you went to high school, or college, or law school with that have gotten a DUI? That smoke pot?...Are their lives ruined? Should they be? Well Odell Thurman's pretty much is.

Dekalb Gibson said...

(This is the second part of the email)

I heard a story from a UGA booster one time that really made me stop and think. He was from Monticello, Georgia, where Odell is from. After Thurman's official visit to UGA, the booster asked him what his favorite part of the visit was. The booster expected to hear something about going to a bar, strip club, steak dinner, or something about the co-eds on campus. Oddell's answer- That was the first night he had slept in a bed by himself in his life. His grandparents raised him and his siblings and cousins all in one room at their house. And we expect this kid to grow up and not ever make any mistakes?

One of my best friends works in government; he is 26, has a good job, and a bright, bright future. Guess what, he has been a arrested a couple of times, including a DUI conviction. I know for a fact that he has used drugs. Why isn't his life ruined?

When I was teaching school in the projects in Macon, I really got to see what a part of life dog fighting is in America's inner city. Most of the adult black men fought dogs, that was just a fact of life. The police knew they did it, they just didn't care. Hell, a lot of the kids that I taught couldn't afford a school lunch or a Snicker's bar at the corner store, but they had a pit bull they were raising. It was just an accepted part of their life. They didn't question if it was humane; they just did it because that is what they were taught.

When a six year old kills his first deer; takes its life by shooting it with an inch long piece of metal from 100 yards, is that torturing an animal? What about if he shoots it in the guts and it runs off to die a week later in the woods, is that torturing an animal? Some might say yes, but to many outdoorsmen all over the world, it isn't. Context.

What about if someone were to take a pig and shoot hooks into its legs, hang it upside down and then slit its throat? Would that be torture? By the way, that happens millions of times every day, when they slaughter pigs to make footballs that all of them men (and hundreds of others) that I have mentioned use to make there living. Context.

Am I saying that what Micheal Vick did to those dogs was right? Hell no. Is it as wrong as we like to jump to conclusions and act like it is? I don't think so.

One more question for you. Mr. Stallworth killed a middle-aged hispanic construction worker. If he had killed an 8 year old, blond headed, white girl would he have only gotten a month in jail?

Chris said...

I disagree Vik. That someone died as a result of Stallworth's drunk driving is really irrelevant to me. Punishments should be tied to the culpable mental state of the defendant, not the random outcome of their act.

Stallworth drove with a .12 BAC. He did nothing worse than thousands of people do every year. He just happened to be unlucky enough that someone ran in front of him while he was driving. Why should Stallworth be punished more severely than your average drunk driver just because he had shitass luck?

Imagine a scenario where you and I are both standing on my back porch. We both just randomly fire a gun into the distance. You hit a person in the head and kill them, I hit nothing. Why should you be punished more severely than I am just because your reckless behavior had a shittier random result?

Vik Vij said...

@Chris -- Punishments should be tied to both the mental state of the defendant and the outcome of that mental state. For example, if I have the intention of killing a person with a gun, and I buy a gun, buy bullets, find the person I intent to shoot, lie in waiting for them, shoot, and (1) hit them with a bullet and kill them, (2) hit them with a bullet and the victim survives, (3) miss them and hit another person who is killed, (4) miss them and hit another person who is not killed, or (5) miss the victim and hit nothing.

In all these scenarios, my mental state was the same, namely killing the victim with a gun. Yet, these crimes should be, and are, prosecuted very differently. The difference between #1 and #5 can be life in prison or the death penalty as opposed to 10 years in prison. First degree murder and attempted murder have the same mental state, yet are punished very differently.

I don't know all the facts, but I would have to disagree with the statement that Stallworth was "unlucky enough" that someone ran in front of him. Stallworth took a risk by driving drunk and struck and killed a pedestrian. I don't think he should get life in prison, but I think 30 days is laughable.

For your last scenario, if I struck somebody, that can be depraved heart murder if I recklessly disregard the risk of striking someone with a bullet.

The mens rea (mental state, for you non lawyers out there) and actus reus (physical act) must concur in order for a crime to be committed.

Trey said...

The only thing, Chris, is that Stallworth says he SAW the man crossing the street. I don't know ALL the facts, but I remember he said that he flashed his brights and honked to try to get his attention. I have to imagine that if he weren't drunk he would have taken more effective action (brakes, swerving, avoiding collision). I disagree, too, that he should get no more punishment than the average drunk driver. Sure, it was unfortunate that there were probably people way drunker than him driving home the same night that never even got caught, but he still killed someone and it was his fault and noone else's.

Chris said...

"For example, if I have the intention of killing a person with a gun, and I buy a gun, buy bullets, find the person I intent to shoot, lie in waiting for them, shoot, and (1) hit them with a bullet and kill them, (2) hit them with a bullet and the victim survives, (3) miss them and hit another person who is killed, (4) miss them and hit another person who is not killed, or (5) miss the victim and hit nothing."

In those 5 situations, I think the punishment should be exactly the same.

Punishing people with equally culpable mental states based on the random outcome of their act is arbitrary at best. Why should you be less criminally culpable because you're a shitty shot? Or because you were lucky enough that there wasn't a bystander standing behind your target?

Chris said...

And just to clarify, I'm not commenting on how the law is but rather how it should be.

Vik Vij said...

Chris -- the difference in all of those situations is the impact on the victim. Whether the intended victim is killed or injured are two highly different outcomes. Impact on the victim is an absolutely necessary part of criminal justice. I would ask whether you thought criminal laws were intended to punish or to rehabilitate?

By analogy, if I steal one dollar, I am guilty of larceny. If I steal $100,000, I am guilty of grand larceny (at common law). My intent in both scenarios was to steal money, but the impact on the victim of the crime is very different. Sure, we can debate the marginal utility of the dollar to a poorer man as compared to the hundred thousand from Bill Gates, but I think that is besides the point.

If intent were the only factor, people would be punished for their thoughts and desires, not the concurrence of their "evil mind" (channeling my inner Prof. Wheeler) and illegal act.

If I intend to steal money from a store but never leave my apartment, I have not committed a crime. I shouldn't be punished for that.

Chris said...

In your theft analogy, you are intended to take a larger amount, therefore an increased criminal culpability.

To extend your theft analogy to what I'm talking about, imagine we have two pickpockets. They each snag someone's wallet on the street. One of the wallets has $1, the other has $100,000.

Why should the pickpocket who just happened to grab the greater amount of money be punished more harshly when both criminals intended to just snag a wallet and the amount of money they stole was pure chance?

I don't find impact on victims even remotely relevant in criminal law. The purposes of criminal punishments should be deterring future acts and protecting the public from criminals by taking them off the street.

Punishing the $1 pickpocket less than the $100,000 pickpocket does not deter future pickpocketing any more effectively nor does it protect the public and the pickpockets are equally dangerous to the public.

Vik Vij said...

Chris, I think that deterrence and protection of the community are important aspects of criminal law. But I think the majority of people would agree that punishment, or retribution, is just as important, if not more so. Whether you feel that the retribution is exacted on behalf of society as a whole, or the individual victim, retribution is a major component of criminal law.

If stealing $1 or $1,000 were not different, why were they different crimes at common law? Why is one petty larceny and one grand larceny? We agree that the intent in both situations is to steal money. That intent, coupled with the actus reus, must be punished. But, the difference in the punishment comes from the result of the actus reus: the actual stealing of the money. The social dis-utility in stealing $1 is less than in stealing $1000. Hence, the difference in the crimes and punishments.

Coming back to Stallworth, the dis-utility is merely driving under the influence is the risk of harm borne by society in that the impaired driver, any potential passengers, other motorists, pedestrians may be killed or injured and or any property may be damaged. The price for being caught and convicted is a DUI. But, if that risk comes to fruition, and another person is killed, the dis-utility is higher. It is not simply a risk of somebody dying, but somebody (Mr. Reyes, here) actually dying. The two scenarios are different.

Chris said...

Retribution is just a fancy word for vengeance and is an impulse we should do our best to overcome.

I do grant your premise that most people think retribution is a valid purpose of the criminal justice system, I simply think that most people are wrong. We should look to the better angels of our nature rather than succumb to our base impulses.

gizmo said...

Is this a law blog?

Jordy said...

It's actually insane that people 'value' the life of animals over human beings.

Chris, I actually think Stallworth should be punished MORE severely than an average drunk driver. He put himself in that state of mind by drinking too much and getting behind the wheel of his car. It cost someone their LIFE. If that were me, I'd be so pissed and haunting his house right now. I'll sacrifice a hundred dogs (not my dog, he's too cute) to save a human's.

Also, did you know the FCC allows programs to show people getting beaten, shot, burned, killed, etc. but you can't SHOW that being done to an animal? It all has to be implied.

I also hate PETA.

Wes said...

Prosecutorial discretion:

http://www.profootballtalk.com/2009/06/22/video-exists-of-stallworth-accident/

N.a.t.e. said...

Mr Gibson has a point. Does "skin color" play any part in this? "Minorities" at the center this case. What if the victim were White? Different outcome?

Not that all the legal analyis that follows Mr Gibson's point doesn't matter, but I think it "race" could very well have played a part in how this case played out.

Vik Vij said...

Sadly, Nate, I think if a "non-minority" was killed, say a pretty blond woman such as Natalie Hollaway, America would be up in arms. Deklab and I exchanged emails on the topic.

Apparently, there is a video footage from a surveillance camera showing Mr. Reyes entering into the street in front of Stallworth's car. Stallworth had the time to honk his horn and flash his lights, so, it would seem, he had time to stop, swerve or slow down. But, the case must have been weak with the camera footage of Mr. Reyes' part in this accident, along with Mr. Stallworth's prior clean record, cooperation with the authorities and the civil settlement.

There is also some skuttlebutt that Stallworth was high as well as drunk. I'm sure that played a part in the over all incident, if true.

Bottomline, I do think justice was done. I personally think the sentence was too light, but I'm not the the ADA or the victim, so what I think matters not.

N.a.t.e. said...

Vik, I respect that. Appreciate the additional information as far as Stallworth's state of being. I think alot of factors played a role in both sentences. Vick was dealing with the Feds, Vick lied to the Feds, the Feds had recently issued new "laws" and sentencing guidelines on crimes related to dogfighting, etc. Stallworth was dealing with local gov't and like everyone said, was "standup" about his breaking of the law. Not to mention he was a first time offender (or first time "caught-er"). At the end of they day, I think race was pretty far down on the list of reason these cases played out the way they did.

N.a.t.e. said...

Vik, I respect that. Appreciate the additional information as far as Stallworth's state of being. I think alot of factors played a role in both sentences. Vick was dealing with the Feds, Vick lied to the Feds, the Feds had recently issued new "laws" and sentencing guidelines on crimes related to dogfighting, etc. Stallworth was dealing with local gov't and like everyone said, was "standup" about his breaking of the law. Not to mention he was a first time offender (or first time "caught-er"). At the end of they day, I think race was pretty far down on the list of reason these cases played out the way they did.

J said...

I'm joining this convo a little late, but I have a question for the law contingent...did Mike Vick actually get prosecuted for "killing dogs" or for just running a successful large-scale dog fighting operation involving illegal gambling and unreported, tax-free income and whatnot. Is it just that the govt didn't get their piece of the pie, or was it literally because of harm to animals?
I agree killing people in any regard should be punished much more severely than killing animals. Ditto on neutering PETAns.