(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Saturday November 28, 2009 was exactly one week before Shachar Greenspan was due
to celebrate her bat mitzva. Invitations were out, the party venue was 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 drunk driver, whose blood alcohol level was
four times the legal limit, 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. Somehow, however,
she clung on to life. But today, she remains a quadriplegic who can only
communicate via eye movement.
Last week Petah Tikva traffic court Judge
Tal Ostfeld- Navy convicted the driver in a plea-bargain deal, sentenced him to
six-months community service, imposed a NIS1,000 fine in four installments (or
10 days in jail) and revoked his driver’s license for six years.
distasteful understatement, the judge described the consequences of the accident
as “quite serious,” and went on to justify her leniency. She noted that the
driver isn’t young, was widowed and 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; the fact that he saved the
judicial system valuable court-time evidently helped suffice, in her view, to
let him off with a slap on the wrist.
THIS ISN’T the first stark
incongruity between crime and punishment. Following another plea-bargain last
July, a driver and her passenger were both handed down three-year terms for the
2009 hit-and-run that left 12- year-old Amir Balahsan of Yehud in irrevocable
Speeding away, they abandoned the motionless boy at the
curb, embarked on intensive efforts to cover-up traces of the collision and
cold-bloodedly went off to eat without even phoning for an ambulance. With a
third-off-for-good-behavior, they’re likely to be free after serving two years.
They were also ordered to pay the comatose boy NIS30,000 in damages. Amir’s
family described the reparations award as more salt on their wounds.
few days ago the Balahsans visited and commiserated with the
What makes the Greenspan case especially disgraceful is the
fact that the family wasn’t apprised of the sentencing schedule and was denied
any opportunity to object to the plea bargain. Everything essentially was done
behind its back, adding insult to the pain.
THIS DREADFUL episode leaves
us with two disconcerting questions: Why did the prosecution at all opt for a
plea bargain and why did the court see fit to accept it? Plea bargains are
plausible in select circumstances such as when police have a hard time proving a
given defendant’s guilt. In sexual assault cases, it’s argued that sparing the
victim the ordeal of reliving the torment supersedes tougher punishment
(although testimony may be taken by video rather than in front of the
In other instances the police may wish to protect sources
and refrain from exposing informants or witnesses.
Finally, and not
always excusably, there is a bureaucratic impetus. If every case in the justice
system went to trial, it is maintained, the courts would be so overloaded that
they would effectively be shut down. Plea bargaining allows prosecutors to
obtain guilty pleas in cases that might otherwise go to trial.
are indeed badly bogged down but this specific case is extraordinarily egregious
and severely undermines deterrence.
Our system doesn’t oblige judges to
abide by prosecution- defense deals. There was no onus on Ostfeld-Navy to accept
The very suspicion that judges may be taking the easy route
when offered the opportunity is more than distressing.
It undercuts our
safety and corrodes our faith in the justice they mete out. The only antidote is
for the Knesset to belatedly enact compulsory minimum-sentencing
Justice, let us not forget, is supposed to blind – ergo,
handed down without extraneous considerations.
There’s much complaining
in our public discourse at present about waning respect for our judiciary. But
the handwringing is disingenuous if we acquiesce to judicial superciliousness
and insensitivity of the kind exhibited in this appalling case.