Sadly, the family of Sarah Paino will never get justice. What would justice for the loss of the loved daughter, partner and mother look like anyway? They will always have lost her and sending the driver to jail for ten times as long would not change that. Unlike The Mercury, I am conscious of the need for sensitivity in discussing this case as it is obviously a highly distressing subject for friends and family, but I feel it is something that needs some balanced commentary and I have seen little of that so far.
This is a difficult essay to write and it is going to be one of those issues that attracts a range of different reactions, many of them very strong. I accept that, to many, especially the family of the victim, the sentence of five years may seem unfair- especially given the high probability of him serving as little as half of this time in custody. I would have been comfortable with a longer sentence, as this hardly seems a commensurate consequence for the life he took, so I empathise with their pain.
But the community outrage that has accompanied it, fanned to some degree by the Mercury’s emotive reporting, needs to be put in context. The Paino family have every right to be as angry as they want- I would not to presume to tell them how to feel- but the rest of us need to consider a few facts as objectively as possible.
There is no sugar coating how irresponsible the driver was- driving a stolen car at ridiculously dangerous speeds and fleeing from police. If the world was fair, it would have been him that died in the crash instead of Ms Paino, but that didn't happen. The boy (and let’s not forget his age. Just because teenagers have begun to look like adults does not mean they have developed the same maturity and judgement- ask any parent) was driving with absolutely no regard for the safety of other road users, but he was sentenced in accordance with all case law precedent. No one i know who works in the legal or police force were surprised by it. For a judge to exceed these precedents and impose a greater sentence would have just left it open to appeal. If you compare it to Tim Ellis, who also killed someone through negligent driving and whose sentence was wholly suspended, the sentence is at the upper end.
Perhaps our sentencing laws are too low for crimes resulting in death or serious injury. I wouldn't argue with that at all. It does concern me that if he hasn't learnt his lesson, he could once again endanger the lives of other road users in the near future. But this is part of a broader discussion around the purpose and efficacy (and funding) of our corrections system. How do we weigh the relative importance of seemingly 'fair punishment' with rehabilitation? Personally I am a bit emotionally conflicted on this. I still identify strongly with the 'Do the crime, do the time,' mantra,' but I am also aware of the considerable amount of research which challenges the effectiveness of harsh penalties as any kind of deterrent and points to the limited capacity for rehabilitation in our prison system.
Being such an emotive subject people may have quite different opinions. If you feel that the driver 'deserves' to suffer significantly more for the life he took, that is a valid opinion- as long as it has been rationally considered. Before you do make that decision, there are a few things to bear in mind. If you still want to hang him after reading the rest of this essay, I wont argue, but take a few moments to consider the whole situation.
Let’s not forget that Ms Paino’s killer has more than a jail sentence to deal with. For the rest of his life he has to deal with the fact that his driving killed an innocent human being. I have seen no evidence presented that he is the kind of sociopath who would not be bothered by that. Don’t assume that he gets his life back unchanged when he completes his sentence.
While he is obviously responsible for Ms Paino’s death, what actions is he being punished for? This is not murder case. The boy’s crimes were to take serious risks that resulted in catastrophic consequences, but that was obviously not his intent. I am not saying that, “I didn’t mean to,” is any kind of excuse (I am aware that I have written exactly the opposite in another context), but the main thing that separates him from many other drivers who take risks (be honest with yourself here) is that he misjudged the risk he took and an innocent bystander wore the lethal consequence.
And let’s be honest, we have something of a cultural problem with people taking risks whilst driving. Speeding, drink driving, using the phone whilst driving (and now playing Pokemon Go apparently) are offences that many people commit daily, with little concern for the potential consequence of their actions. Unquestionably, there is a continuum of risks and Ms Paino’s killer was taking some more obviously dangerous ones, but don’t give yourself too much credit if you just stick to the ‘safe risks,' and only break the law (a little bit.)
Basically everyone who has killed someone through taking a negligent risk whilst driving probably thought that they were taking a safe risk. Maybe we have better judgement or better luck, but do either of these things make us any better a person? Consequences do count, so probably a little, but perhaps not as much as we assume.