On Sept. 27, 2015, Marco Muzzo got off a private jet at Toronto’s Pearson Airport and hopped in his SUV, drunk as a lord. On his way home, he sped through a stop sign and T-boned a minivan, killing 65-year-old Gary Neville and his grandchildren — Daniel, nine, Harrison, five, and Milagros, two — and seriously injuring their grandmother, Neriza, and great-grandmother, Josefina.

This week, Justice Michelle Fuerst handed Muzzo a 10-year sentence — apparently the stiffest ever handed down to a first-time offender. He’ll probably serve one-third of that time behind bars. Twelve years after his sentence is up, he can apply for a driver’s licence.

The death toll is horrendous. The impact on the family is both gut-wrenching and unfathomable. “I couldn’t pick which baby to turn off the machines first,” the children’s mother, Jennifer Neville-Lake, tearfully told reporters after the sentencing. And the circumstances couldn’t be better scripted to arouse public outrage.

Muzzo wasn’t just a little drunk: two-and-a-half hours after the crash, he had a blood-alcohol level of .204. He is the grandson of a billionaire property developer — wealthy enough to take a private jet to Miami for his bachelor party, but apparently not to take a $70 limousine ride home. It’s loathsome, and pretty much everyone seems to agree the punishment doesn’t fit the crime.

Aggravating factors aside, however, this is practically a set piece. No one is ever happy with sentences handed down to people who choose to drive wasted and kill people. Everyone vents their spleen and then soldiers on, in certain knowledge they’ll get another chance soon enough.

Our revulsion at drunk driving stems from a moral revolution that’s occurred over my lifetime that accounts for the lion’s share of the massive reduction in drunk driving, and thereby drunk driving fatalities, in recent decades. But that reduction has plateaued in recent years, as is commonly noted by advocates when arguing for new measures — such as brief summary licence suspensions for those who blow between .05 and .08.

The people who pose biggest problems, however, are the very drunk, the incorrigible and the recidivists. Of fatally injured drivers in 2012 who tested positive for alcohol use, just five per cent had a blood-alcohol limit between .05 and .08. A whopping 64 per cent tested, like our friend Muzzo, at more than twice the legal limit.

It’s rather surprising that no one has addressed society’s clear demands for harsher penalties. For the better part of a decade, we had a government that was more than happy to slap mandatory minimum sentences on society’s least popular criminals. Surely, woefully impaired drivers who kill people might have qualified — especially as the Conservatives never seemed too worried about whether there was evidence of a potential deterrent effect.

As a means of expressing society’s revulsion, perhaps toughening sentences is still a good idea. But in fact, the evidence that locking up drunk drivers actually reduces fatalities is not particularly compelling.

“People are more likely to respond to the shame associated with impaired driving than to the threat of punishment per se, although the level of shame is undoubtedly influenced by sanctions and publicity campaigns,” concluded a 2002 literature review for the Department of Justice, conducted by University of Ottawa criminologist Thomas Gabor.

“The evidence in this area holds out more hope for vigorous law enforcement and the certainty of punishment than for tough sentences,” he wrote. “Studies indicate that (mandatory minimum sentences) and sanctions of increasing severity do not reduce recidivism rates or alcohol-related accidents” (though we can, of course, be reasonably certain drunk drivers won’t kill again, so long as they’re locked up).

Appropriate and necessary as it sometimes is, putting people in prison is serious business. It costs a lot of money. It can and often does leave society worse off; you need to very carefully weigh the costs and the benefits. But taking someone’s driver’s licence away, I submit, fits none of these descriptions. It is easy. It is free, or very close to it. Young drivers are constantly told — or they were in my day — that a licence is a privilege, not a right. Surely Marco Muzzo ought to lose that privilege for more than 12 years. Why not forever and ever and ever?

Source: National Post


Last updated on: 2016-04-20 | Link to this post