Morris: Justice ‘by the Point’
Today’s column offers a serious exploration of a way to solve the crime problem once and for all. So, if you’re reading this in your car, put the phone down so you don’t miss the point.
And so you don’t get four points. Under a provision of a law that just went into effect this year, those are the demerits against your driver’s license for using a cellphone without a hands-free device while driving. Another new provision will add four to eight points for speeding in a school or construction zone.
These provisions are added to the existing system of violations that gives us penalty points for things like failure to use headlights (two), disregarding a stop sign (four) and following too closely (six). If you accumulate points ranging from 20 to 42 within a two-year period, your license can be suspended for periods ranging from a month to a year.
Of course, if the violation is serious enough – driving while intoxicated, for example – the whole point system is superseded, and the state goes immediately for suspension. But the point system for “minor” violations is an invaluable way to keep a watchful eye for accumulated evidence of drivers who may be guilty of road unworthiness.
Some of my fellow libertarians, as expected, are upset at what they see as government intrusion into what should be personal discretion. If we are penalized not for the accidents we cause but for our actions that might theoretically cause an accident, well, that is just state nannyism.
But I applaud the state.
Driving is a privilege, after all, granted to us upon our acknowledgement and acceptance of the rules of the road. If we follow those rules and know most other drivers do as well, we have a reasonable expectation of having mishap-free travels.
And who can honestly say the system doesn’t work? Yes, there are many accidents, even some fatalities. But have you ever heard newscasters talk of a deadly epidemic on the roads? Have you ever seen mayors or governors wringing their hands over what do about a sudden traffic fatality crisis?
Traffic regulations, in fact, are exactly the kind of laws libertarians always say they want. The rules don’t tell us where we have to go or what kind of vehicle we have to drive. They are minimally intrusive, designed solely for the purpose getting us to our destinations as safely as possible.
Which makes them perfect for use against all crimes, not just those involving safety on the highway.
Think about it.
The crime debate is held hostage today between two extreme camps. On the one side, we have those forever in search of “root causes” and eager to forgive almost anyone for almost anything. On the other, we have tough-on-crime zealots who want to lock up shoplifters and jaywalkers and throw away the key.
What we need is a way to balance those two extremes, find a way to imprison the truly dangerous miscreants but allow those who commit minor offenses to remain free to learn the error of their ways.
Why not a point system?
Everyone gets a “stay out of jail” card, and each offense is assigned a number of points. Things like jaywalking and loitering would get the minimum dings on the card, one point. Public intoxication would be worth two points. Embezzlement would get three points. Burglary would get five points, but home invasion, with the residents still there, would garner seven points.
And so on. Get a certain number of points within a two-year period and you go to jail for the designated amount of time.
For more serious offenses, such as murder and rape, the point system would be superseded, and the criminals would go directly to prison. But not everyone who commits a so-called “crime” is destined to become a career offender. The point system would let us watch for accumulated evidence of habitual wrongdoing tendencies.
Now that I think of it, we might even want to consider a separate point system for the most serious crimes. Not all murders, for example, are equal. Surely there should be fewer points for a gang member killing another gang member than for a kidnapper who kills a hostage. And then there are the special cases where the murder might be heinous but not likely to be repeated, such as killing a spouse in a violent rage.
That’s probably a little more controversial, though, so we should try the point system on lesser offenses first, just to get a feel for how it might work,
For those who consider this proposal outlandish, just consider how far down that road we have already gone. Plea bargaining is a kind of point system that trades lesser offenses for bigger criminals. “Victimless crimes” are cited all the time by public safety officials trying to prioritize their efforts. And don’t forget all the leaders in some of our major cities who have decided to overlook even arson and looting when committed by groups with favored status.
A word of warning here. If you don’t think this column is worthy of serious consideration, give yourself a point. And don’t think no one is keeping score.
Leo Morris, columnist for The Indiana Policy Review, is winner of the Hoosier Press Association’s award for Best Editorial Writer. Morris, as opinion editor of the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, was named a finalist in editorial writing by the Pulitzer Prize committee. Contact him at email@example.com.