Hit-and-run crimes

If judges refuse to heed the call for harsh punishment against hit-and-run criminals, lawmakers are right to step in and force them to do so.

By
October 25, 2011 04:57
3 minute read.
Tal Mor with his father Itzik in court on Sunday

Tal Mor with his father Itzik in court 311. (photo credit: JOANNA PARASZCZUK)

A decade ago, then-Supreme Court justice Mishael Cheshin remarked in a hit-and-run case that the driver’s despicable act “strikes a blow to the minimal requisite solidarity needed to maintain a healthy society… and it is only fitting that the driver be punished in the harshest way within the framework of the law.”

Tragically, in June of last year Cheshin experienced first hand the horror of the hit-and-run when his son, Shneor, 43, was run down while cycling. Tal Mor, 27, who was under the influence of both alcohol and drugs, not only abandoned Cheshin, leaving him to die on the side of the road, but also attempted to cover up his heinous crime.

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Though he deserved it, Mor was, unfortunately, not “punished in the harshest way within the framework of the law.”

A 12-year-prison sentence was handed down, along with NIS 30,000 in compensation to the Cheshin family and the revoking of Mor’s driver’s license for 20 years, by Judge Zacharia Caspi of the Petah Tikva Central District Court.

“Twelve years is by no means a light sentence,” Prof. Emmanuel Gross, an expert in criminal law from the University of Haifa, told The Jerusalem Post Sunday, “but the court could have been harsher.”

Could have and should have.

The phenomenon of hit-and-runs is a blight on our society. And the frequency with which Israelis, brought up on the Zionist ethic of mutual responsibility and shared fate, choose to cowardly run away from the scene of an accident is shocking.

According to data provided by the Israel Police’s traffic department based on the past decade, there are on average about 700 hit-and-runs a year in which about 1,000 people are injured and some 18 people are killed.

Yet our courts are wary of handing down truly harsh sentences when a reckless driver kills or handicaps for life innocent pedestrians or cyclists (most hit-and-runs do not involve another car) and abandons the scene – and the victim – in a futile attempt to escape justice (the vast majority of hit-and-run perpetrators and quickly apprehended).

Too often we hear of plea bargains being reached such as in the case of 12-year-old Amir Balahsan of Yehud, who was reduced to a vegetative state by hitand- run perpetrator Pnina Toren and passenger Omri Naim. The two were sentenced to three years.

In January, the Supreme Court actually reduced the sentence of a particularly unsavory hit-and-run offender. In 2008, a drunk Shai Simon sped through a red light and plowed into Meital Aharonson, 27, and Mali Yazdi while they crossed a Tel Aviv street and then drove off, abandoning them. Aharonson was killed, Yazdi was doomed to spend her life in a wheelchair.

In the harshest punishment handed down for a manslaughter charge involving a road accident, Tel Aviv District Court Judge Zvi Gurfinkel sentenced Simon to 20 years in jail. But on appeal, the Supreme Court lowered Simon’s sentence to 14 years, arguing that the 20-year decision “radically exceeded the conventional punishment.”

We have in the past criticized the Supreme Court’s pedantic adherence to the principle of sentencing consistency, disregarding in the process the need to punish Simon’s contempt for human life, made doubly worse by very calculated cover-up tactics. We might now add that the Supreme Court’s decision to reduce the sentence handed down by Judge Gurfinkel might have been in Judge Caspit’s mind when he ruled on the Cheshin case.

No judge wants to see his ruling overturned by a higher court.

Under the circumstances, we welcome a new bill, drafted by MKs Moshe Matlon and Robert Elituv (Israel Beiteinu) and Ze’ev Bielski (Kadima) that would ban plea bargains in hit-and-run cases. It would also increase the maximum sentence for a fatal hit-and-run – not including other offenses such as driving under the influence or obstructing justice – to 14 years from just seven to nine years at present. The seven-to-nine- year maximum would be transformed into the minimum.

The Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee approved the bill earlier this month for its second and third readings. Let’s hope it becomes law soon. If judges refuse to heed the call of retired justice Cheshin for harsh punishment against hit-and-run criminals, lawmakers are right to step in and force them to do so.


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