If you want to get a sense of what constitutes justice, and to know if our legal system is administering justice appropriately, ask the parent of a dead child.
Then ask yourself if the laws that are in place to punish the child’s killer come close to that parent’s idea of justice.
Ask Susan Bartholomew-Fydenkevez if her 19-year-old daughter Emily got justice.
Emily was a passenger in a car driven by Harley Kelly of Middleburgh on June 9 when Kelly ran a stop sign and crashed into a pile of rocks. Emily died instantly.
Kelly’s blood-alcohol content was twice the legal limit.
On Wednesday, Kelly was sentenced to 3 to 9 years in state prison after pleading to second-degree manslaughter.
During the sentencing, Emily’s mother told the judge that the crash equated to murder, and that the sentence he imposed fell far short of her idea of justice.
She said state laws that allow such sentences are “insane. Absolutely insane,” according to a Times Union account of the sentencing.
Under existing law, the maximum prison sentence Kelly could have gotten was 5 to 15 years. Also under the law, the charge of second-degree manslaughter is a non-violent crime, even though
Emily is just as dead as if she’d been killed with a knife or a gun.
No law is ever going to bring Susan Bartholomew-Fydenkevez’s daughter back. And no law will ever provide her with the equivalent of justice.
But state lawmakers should consider such testimony as an opportunity to examine whether the state is providing justice to victims and their families.
In the case of drunken driving, lawmakers should review existing sentencing guidelines and consider whether they should be updated. Do judges need more authority, for instance, to impose harsher sentences when someone so completely and deliberately acts in a way that causes someone else to die?
Does the state need to make the crime of second-degree manslaughter a violent crime and therefore subject to tougher penalties and exempt from new bail reform standards? Should the state increase its penalties for aggravated drunken driving to deter repeat offenders and drivers who drive at high levels of intoxication from getting behind the wheel? Are current prison sentences sufficient? Are the fines and license suspensions effective enough?
No one will ever convince a parent that the child they raised and was forced to bury got justice.
But state lawmakers owe victims and their families an honest effort to come close.