Why We Punish Crimes Of Specific Intent More Severely Than Strict Liability Crimes

Posted by Richard Lawson | Aug 19, 2014 | 0 Comments

As reported today in the AJC, the Gainesville GA Police are looking for four people suspected of tossing rocks from a freeway overpass onto the traffic below.  The rocks damaged two vehicles.

Once caught, the people who committed this crime will be facing Aggravated Assault charges, along with Reckless Conduct.

Aggravated Assault is a crime that carries up to 20 years in prison.  Each rock thrown can also be considered a separate offense with its own consecutive punishment.

Aggravated Assault is a crime of specific intent.  The act of throwing these rocks shows a complete lack of concern for the well-being of others.  It is a despicable act.

DUI is a not a crime of specific intent.  No person intends to commit this crime.  Intent still must be proven, but the intent is shown by a person's choice to do the acts that would cause the impairment and then to drive.  No person has the intention to drive under the influence.

That is why we treat DUI as a misdemeanor offense, unless the person has had multiple arrests.  When considering the length of a sentence, generally accepted theories of punishment have always taken into consideration the intent necessary to commit the offense.

What's troubling is the increase in penalties in DUI cases which are in direct contradiction to regularly accepted theories of punishment.  When dealing with crimes without specific intent, like DUI, severe punishments provide no corrective affect.  In fact, taking a person from society can cause a person to lose their job or marriage, and as a result, can further marginalize a person who needs help.

The State would argue that in spite of the lack of corrective aspects of a jail sentence, part of the issue is to remove a person from society to protect public safety.  However, that argument is inane when you consider that the "removal" is only for weeks or months.  Assuming the accused has many years to live, the public safety argument is specious.

People who have problems with alcoholism need treatment, not time in jail.  We should these support people so that their actions do not cause a further spiral into more drinking. Sending an alcoholic to jail only causes that person to return to society with fewer resources and less hope of getting his or her life back on the right path.

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Richard Lawson

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