The Supreme Court on Wednesday reduced the sentence of two men convicted of hit-and-run charges after running over and killing 27-year-old Meital Aharonson and maiming her friend Mali Yazdi in Tel Aviv in 2008.
The judges partially accepted an appeal filed by Shai Simon and Shalom Yemini, stating that the 20-year sentence given to Simon “radically exceeded the conventional punishment,” and reduced it to 14 years in prison.
The court also said it was not possible to convict Yemini, who was a passenger in the vehicle, of the hit-and-run crime, but only of assisting in it, and his punishment was reduced from five years to two-and-a-half years.
The two men were found to be under the influence of alcohol when they hit Aharonson and Yazdi and fled the scene of the accident, leaving the victims to die in the middle of the road.
“I examined the punitive standard that is common in offenses of vehicular manslaughter while under the influence of alcohol, the punitive standard for offenses of abandoning the victim of an accident, as well as the standard for more severe offenses (like intentional use of violence, with or without a weapon), and found that the lower court radically exceeded the conventional punishment,” wrote Judge Isaac Amit in the ruling.
“The punishment to which Simon was sentenced is even disproportionate in relation to offenses of manslaughter conducted under far more severe conditions, and places his punishment in line with, and even beyond, that of criminals who killed with intent, while using violence and weapons, even some cases of murder... The desire to act with a strong hand in dealing with those who scorn traffic laws and are indifferent to the lives of others is common to us all. At the same time, such a radical elevation of the standard of punishment cannot be done all at once and expresses a deviation from the principle of uniformity of punishment, which is better done gradually.”
In reducing the sentence, the judges also took into account the fact that Simon had no premeditated plan to kill Aharonson, that there was no claim that abandoning the women had in any way aggravated their condition, that Simon had not been convicted of speeding or escaping from the police and that Simon had no criminal record.
The judges stressed the severe moral turpitude involved in abandoning someone who was injured, but determined that although Yemini had been aware of the actions and done nothing to prevent Simon from fleeing the scene, it was impossible to convict Yemini of the crime of abandonment, only of assisting in the crime. The judges urged the legislator to remedy the law in such a way that clarified whether it referred to a passenger as well as a driver.
Simon’s lawyer, Haim Misgav, told reporters after hearing the judges’ decision that he was thankful for the Supreme Court’s intervention and that the District Court’s sentencing was “monstrous and unacceptable.” Misgav said that the two men’s sentences had been exaggerated due to the presence of the victims’ families in the courtroom.
“The 20-year sentence was given just because the families came to the courtroom and held up [Aharonson’s] photos,” he asserted.
Dotan Russo, who represented the state in the case, said that the State Attorney’s Office thought the original sentence was an escalation in punishment suitable to the circumstances of the crime.
Aharonson’s mother, Liora, upon hearing of the ruling, said the court had reduced the punishment of her daughter’s killers, but could not reduce her pain at the loss.
“Our little girl will never be returned to us, and we will never have the chance to touch and feel her again. With time, these two will return to their families and their lives will return to their track, and we will remain with the double pain caused by the loss of our daughter and the fact that justice was not done to those who killed her in cold blood,” she said.
Yadzi responded that “apparently the Supreme Court decided that human life is worth less than what the District Court thought. I think that both of them should sit in prison for 20 years. They left us in the road like we were objects.”
According to road safety advocacy group Or Yarok, there were 7,194 hitand- run accidents in Israel between 2000 and 2009, killing 187 people and severely injuring 841.
“Meital Aharonson’s case was supposed to be the defining moment in
dealing with hit-and-run accidents. The message that the District Court
gave, that the blood of victims is not forfeit, was erased by the
Supreme Court’s decision to reduce the sentence,” said Or Yarok CEO
“Ending the abominable act of abandonment demands twofold action – moral
education as part of drivers’ training, and tougher legislation and
punishment against the offense of hit and run,” he said.