Lenient sentencing

Whether in cases of brutal homicide or criminal negligence, inordinately light punishment makes things worse, not better.

Bibi netanyahu (photo credit: JPost Staff)
Bibi netanyahu
(photo credit: JPost Staff)
Something strange is happening in our courts. Murder indictments are repeatedly reduced to manslaughter – no matter how aggravated the circumstances of crimes that claimed innocent lives. Concomitantly, the punishments, too, rarely seem to fit the crime.
Anyone having even a cursory familiarity with the legal system realizes that justice and fairness are by no means synonymous with legal strictures. A truly wise judiciary strives to bridge the gap.
Our courts, however, seem bent on accentuating their reputation for supercilious insensitivity, and it’s not always because the dry language of the law leaves them no other alternative.
Just last Tuesday, the Tel Aviv District Court sentenced “T” to 18 years behind bars for the 2006 fatal knifing of attorney Anat Pliner. When he was 15, “T” – whose name cannot be released because of his age in 2006 – rang Pliner’s doorbell and demanded money. When she screamed, he plunged a commando knife into her abdomen, right in front of her two young children.
“T” eluded capture for two years, and was connected with the stabbing only after being apprehended for motorcycle theft. Yet judge Shaul Shohat averred that, the tragedy notwithstanding, “this isn’t the sort of case that warrants raising the bar and seeking harsher punishment than usually apportioned to minors.” If wanton murder in the aggravated circumstances of an attempted robbery doesn’t mandate a more deterring sentence, one wonders what does.
The upshot is that with a third off for good behavior, recidivist “T” will be free in 12 years. Pliner’s mother, Tehiya Aharoni, collapsed after the sentencing, crying: “This court has given minors its seal of approval to commit murder... Had that judge’s daughter been murdered, he’d have reacted differently.”
Earlier this month, three Jaljulya ruffians, convicted of the unprovoked beating to death of Arik Karp on Tel Aviv’s Beach Promenade – in front of his wife and daughter – were sent up for 26 years each; but not for murder.
The court opted for manslaughter because the perpetrators might not have expected their sadistic assault to produce a lethal result.
A few days previously, the Beersheba District Court sentenced Mazal Bar-Osher to 24 years for manslaughter after she knifed her neighbor Tali Atar, a pregnant mother of three. Atar’s baby was delivered and lived for four days.
Last year, the Tel Aviv District Court sentenced 29-year-old Eritrean illegal Ya’acub Bashir al-Fadel to eight years for killing 68-year-old Tel-Avivian Esther Galili, and for violent attacks on three other passersby he encountered that fateful evening while on a drunken rampage. Al- Fadel’s earlier victims were lucky. They escaped alive, albeit battered and bruised. Galili, struck on the head, didn’t survive.
The leniency in this case was explained by the fact that al-Fadel was alone in this country, wasn’t known to have a prior criminal record, and had expressed regret. Surveillance cameras showed him assaulting Galili, then leaning over the body.
Lenient sentences aren’t restricted to cases of violent attack. The entire country was shocked last March when Petach Tikva Traffic Court sentenced a 57-year-old drunken driver (whose blood alcohol level was four times the legal limit) to six months’ community service for swerving onto a Netanya sidewalk and injuring two girls.
Twelve-year-old Shachar Greenspan’s head trauma was so grave that she remains a quadriplegic who can only communicate via eye movement.
A year ago 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 Yahud in an irreversible vegetative state.
Whether in cases of brutal homicide or criminal negligence, inordinately light punishment makes things worse, not better. A society which seeks to maintain law and order must ask itself: Who will protect it, if its courts don’t? This state of affairs negates deterrence, undercuts our safety and corrodes our faith in the justice our judiciary dispenses. The only antidote is for the Knesset to, belatedly, enact compulsory minimum-sentencing legislation.
Author Raymond Chandler once rightly noted that “The law isn’t justice. It’s a very imperfect mechanism. If you press exactly the right buttons and are also lucky, justice may show up in the answer.”
The trouble is that we’re unlucky too often.