Bizarrely lenient sentences negate the logic of deterrence. They undercut our safety and corrode our faith in the justice system.
Shahar Greenspan Photo: Channel 2
Supreme Court President Asher Grunis more than hinted to the parents of Shachar
Greenspan that the justices are unlikely to accept their appeal against last
year’s unaccountable plea bargain that resulted in a six-month community-service
sentence for Mark Patrick, the drunk driver who in 2009 left their 12-year-old
daughter a quadriplegic.
Patrick, whose blood alcohol level was four
times the legal limit, was also fined the grand sum of NIS 1,000, and his
driver’s license was revoked for six years. The decision on the appeal will be
announced at a later date.
At the High Court hearing last Wednesday the
prosecution owned up that “certain mistakes were made,” but argued that the
sentence cannot be changed.
Grunis seemed to echo that contention when he
summed up and said to the stunned family and its attorney: “There is some sort
of illusion that the High Court can do anything in this country. But it
The inescapable inference is that the sentence cannot be
amended. Nevertheless, in the same breath, Grunis did suggest that instead of
being banned from driving for six years, Patrick be denied his license for
Would that not be a revision of the sentence, unsatisfactory though
it would be? Inconsequential and nearly insulting as it is to dwell merely on
the license, it establishes the principle that plea bargains and sentences
There are indeed assorted precedents wherein the High
Court did amend sentences. One very prominent example is the case of former Shas
minister Shlomo Benizri, whom the Jerusalem District Court sentenced to 18
months’ imprisonment on corruption charges in 2008. Both Benizri and the state
appealed to the High Court against the sentence. The court more than doubled
Benizri’s time behind bars and sent him up for four years.
where there’s a will there’s a legal way, but not so, apparently, in Patrick’s
case. It’s hard to imagine a situation as black and white.
November 28, 2009, was exactly one week before Shachar was due to celebrate her
Invitations were out, the party venue booked and a new dress
purchased. That morning, not far from home, Shachar and a girlfriend waited on a
Netanya sidewalk for a green light to cross the street. But out of nowhere a
57-year-old heavily inebriated driver swerved onto the pavement and hit both
Shachar’s friend sustained relatively light injuries but Shachar’s
head trauma was so grave that doctors doubted she’d survive. She clung to life
but remains a quadriplegic who can only communicate via eye
Nonetheless, Petah Tikva Traffic Court Judge Tal Ostfeld- Navy
convicted Patrick in a plea-bargain deal, and with distasteful understatement
described the consequences of the accident as “quite serious.”
on to justify her lenience, noting that the driver isn’t young, was widowed, has
nobody to confide in, had a hard life including a heart attack, isn’t a man of
means and, most of all, expressed contrition.
He cooperated with the
authorities and the fact that he saved the judicial system valuable court-time
sufficed, in her view, to let him off with a slap on the wrist.
family wasn’t apprised of the sentencing schedule and was denied any opportunity
to object to the plea agreement contrived behind its back. No explanation was
ever proffered as to why the prosecution opted for the deal and why the court
saw fit to accept it. Our system doesn’t oblige judges to abide by
prosecution-defense deals. There was no onus on Ostfeld- Navy to accept
That the highest court in the land, which insists we owe it dutiful
respect, should appear so unsympathetic to the stricken family underscores the
initial judicial failing. If the High Court leaves the shameful bargain
untouched, it will accentuate the widespread suspicion that judges take the easy
route when offered the opportunity. Bizarrely lenient sentences negate the logic
of deterrence. They undercut our safety and corrode our faith in the justice
The only antidote is for the Knesset to, belatedly, enact pending
compulsory minimum-sentencing legislation.