March 2012 Bar Bulletin
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March 2012 Bar Bulletin

Making the Punishment Fit the Crime

By Daniel Satterberg

 

Steve Lacey lived an extraordinary life, but died while running a most ordinary errand. The 43-year-old father of two was born and raised in England where he showed an aptitude for computers as a child. His career path led him to Microsoft, then Google, where his skills as a programmer and innovator catapulted him to the top of his profession.

Steve was on his way to Costco on a Sunday afternoon last summer. He was sitting in traffic, waiting for a light to change when his life ended. A minute before he was tragically killed, a 52-year-old driver, Patrick Rexroat, was speeding southbound on I-405, carrying three and a half times the legal limit of alcohol in his bloodstream. He was foolishly chasing a car that he thought had cut him off in traffic. While in hot and drunk pursuit of the other driver, Rexroat failed to negotiate the turn he attempted at high speed and slammed into the driver's side door of Steve Lacey's car, killing Steve instantly.

Witnesses report that Rexroat got out of his car seemingly unaware of the carnage he had caused. When he was told that he had killed another person, he shrugged his shoulders and started to walk away.

Drunk drivers kill an average of 250 motorists each year in our state. Sometimes they kill themselves, but often they emerge unscathed while an innocent life is taken. Given this annual carnage, you would think that the law would throw the book at DUI killers, if for no other reason than to protect ourselves and our highways from this most reckless and wanton act and for the disregard of other peoples' lives.

What sort of justice awaits the victim's family, the community and the defendant in the case of Steve Lacey? What justice awaited the parents of Nicholas Hodgins and Derek King, when they were struck and killed the night before their high school graduation by Alexander Peder in June of 2010? Peder had a blood-alcohol level of 0.16 and two bottles of hard liquor in the seat next to him. What justice awaits the family members of 23-year-old Jessica Stenseth and 24-year-old Kiana Cormier, who were crushed to death when Gregory Ross ran a red light in August of 2010 while high on meth­amphetamine?

The answer is as infuriating as the crime. Under Washington sentencing guidelines, the killer of Steve Lacey faces no more than 48 months in prison, minus one-third of the sentence that will almost certainly be reduced for good behavior.1 When all is said and done, Peder, who killed the two young men on the eve of graduation, will only serve 5½ years in prison for killing two young men, despite having two prior alcohol-related driving convictions. Ross, who ended the lives of two young women, will be out in less than three years.

The criminal law is supposed to both punish the offender and protect the rest of us. When it comes to drunk drivers who kill, Washington law fails on both accounts.


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