In our last blog post, we looked at a hit-and-run accident that killed a Vietnam veteran. In the post, we discussed how some states try to protect certain classes of people – typically cops – by increasing the penalties of certain traffic offenses when someone in that class is the victim.
When you think about it, that's incredibly unfair.
Some States Increase Penalties for Certain Traffic Offenses That Hurt Police
Thankfully, Pennsylvania is not one of these states. However, there are a lot of other states that have traffic statutes that enhance the penalties of crashing into and hurting certain kinds of people. The vast majority of those statutes focus on protecting police officers.
One example is the Texas statute for intoxication assault, Penal Code § 49.07. That statute prohibits hurting someone in an accident while driving under the influence (DUI). Typically, convictions for intoxication assault are third-degree felonies that carry between two and 10 years in jail. However, if the victim was an EMT or a firefighter in the line of duty, intoxication assault becomes a second-degree felony that carries two to 20 years in jail. Charges become a felony in the first degree if the victim was a cop in the line of duty, carrying five years to life imprisonment.
These Statutes are Both Unfair and Pointless
Remember, this is for a traffic offense that is, by its own definition, accidental. Sure, driving under the influence increases the risks of causing an accident. However, an increased risk of causing a crash falls far short of intentionally causing one by seeing an object and purposefully slamming into it. The increased risk is also felt by everyone, not just emergency responders.
That means you can't deter intoxication assaults against cops. It also means that you're punishing someone for something they didn't mean to do.
Deterrence is one of the reasons behind criminal law. If you want to deter people from doing something, you make it a crime. Faced with criminal sanctions like fines and jail time, fewer people will choose to do it.
But people can't choose to do something accidentally, so that deterrent has no effect.
Meanwhile, punishing people with criminal sanctions for an accident is horrendously unfair. Again, accidents are not intentional. Elevating the jail time on the table simply because the victim of an accident was an emergency responder means the defendant is facing a longer sentence – in Texas, up to the rest of their life – because they were simply unlucky.
The law can, and should, do better than that.
Joseph D. Lento: Criminal Defense in Philadelphia
As police unions grow in power and lobby more and more aggressively for laws that serve no other purpose than to protect their own, we are seeing more and more of these statutes and penalty enhancers on the law books across America. Some of them – known as Blue Lives Matter laws – have gone so far as to make it a hate crime to assault a police officer.