Meital Aharonson 58.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
A panel of three Supreme Court justices saw fit last week to significantly reduce
the sentences meted out almost a year ago to two defendants involved in a 2008
hit-and-run that left 26-year-old Meital Aharonson dead and that doomed her
friend Mali Yazdi to life in a wheelchair.
In March 2010, Tel Aviv
District Court Judge Zvi Gurfinkel sent driver Shai Simon to a total of 20 years
behind bars – 12 for killing Aharonson, two for injuring Yazdi and another six
for abandoning both after knocking them down. His passenger, Shalom Yemini, was
sent up for five years because he too failed to help the victims.
Supreme Court panel, however, pronounced both sentences excessive, essentially
because they were harsher than what our courts generally mete out, even though
they remained well short of the 30-year maximum allowed by the
Accordingly, Simon’s prison term was decreased to a cumulative 14
years, while Yemini’s was halved to 2.5 years. In practical terms the actual
time served will diminish further because both convicts are likely to enjoy a
third off for good behavior. Hence Yemini may be released in a matter of
The Supreme Court’s message, intentional or otherwise, is that
judges ought not attempt to deter future potential miscreants nor register their
abhorrence, but instead aspire to sentence according to the average customary
for a given crime.
Though legally sanctioned, unfeeling judicial
arithmetic is morally dangerous. Besides displaying insensitivity for the
bereaved Aharonson family and the disabled Yazdi, this judicial numbers-game
unconscionably ignores the public interest.
On the fatal night, Simon and
Yemini were stopped by police for a breathalyzer test. Both sped off, running
numerous red lights before they ran over Aharonson and Yazdi. After wildly
fleeing the accident scene, they premeditatedly tried to pin blame on each other
to obscure the driver’s identity and thereby, by bamboozling investigators,
To be sure, the Supreme Court justices expressed
verbose repugnance for the defendants’ behavior. Nonetheless, the justices
preferred to focus on pedantic adherence to the principle of sentencing
consistency rather than on Simon’s and Yemini’s very calculated cover-up tactics
and contempt for human life. Uppermost in their consideration was
proportionality to punitive precedents in similar circumstances.
societal intolerance to crime were to be reflected in sentencing severity, the
panel ruled, sentences must be increased only in very gradual increments, to
avoid even the semblance of vindictiveness or disproportion.
philosophy may make ample sense in narrow academic confines, it’s sure to
undercut any heightened deterrent. Joyriding louts are unlikely to be impressed
by bureaucratic-mindedness and legalistic theory. Obligatory rhetorical
condemnation from the bench for the offenders’ callousness doesn’t mitigate
THERE ARE approximately 800 hit-and-runs in
this country annually, often triggering lots of squawk in our public discourse
about waning respect for our courts. But the handwringing is disingenuous if we
fail to take notice of judicial superciliousness and aloofness.
distressing enough when lower-court judges take the easy way out and accept
morally offensive plea bargains, as was the case last July when the tragic
hit-and-run that left 12-year-old Amir Balahsan of Yehud in an irrevocable
vegetative state produced what amounted to a penal slap on the offenders’
wrists. Driver Pnina Toren and passenger Omri Naim were sentenced to three
It’s doubly troubling that when a judge, like Zvi Gurfinkel, does
the right thing, he is overruled by the highest court in land, and that on
technical and pedestrian grounds.
We have no way of knowing whether the
three panel members are at all familiar with the observation of Earl Warren,
America’s legendary 14th chief justice, that “it is the spirit and not the form
of law that keeps justice alive.” But their decision appears to indicate that
they prefer form to spirit.
This affects the safety of us all and chips
away at our trust in the system. Justice not only has to be done; it has to be
seen to be done for the public to maintain faith in its functioning.