Thursday, July 30, 2009

Criminal Minds

We all hear about the off-field/court/arena escapades for our famous and often favorite athletes every day. They cheat, they party, they declare bankruptcy, and occasionally they go to prison. For the large part, we ignore these and move on with our lives. However, there is a pair of events that have been widely reviewed and discussed over past few years,and a couple friends of mine asked that I join their debate comparing them.

1. Michael Vick goes to federal prison for funding/running a dog fighting operation
2. Dante Stallworth strikes a jaywalking pedestrian while driving drunk, leading to the pedestrian's death.

They asked that I chime in, and so I shall.....

Vick was convicted of funding an interstate dogfighting ring leading to illegal profit from gambling and including the extreme mistreatment of animals. Several losing dogs were killed via hanging, electrocution, or worse. This was a horrible, ongoing crime which offends the moral sensibilities of people all over this country. Some would compare dogfighting to cockfighting, but I would suggest one difference. Dogs have proven themselves to be much more mentally advanced than birds. They are a more sensitive creature, with more emotions. They are more aware, making the mistreatment and murder of these animals just that much more cruel. Regardless of the amount of Vick's direct involvement with the mistreatment, without his funding it would not have occurred at the scale which it did. I will not suggest that the "trainers" involved would not have been dogfighting without him. It was shown that dogfighting is part of the society in the area that Vick and his friends hail from. However, Vick's money allowed for it to become an enterprise, leading to an exponentially worse situation.

Stallworth went out with some friends to celebrate the payment of a significant portion of his contract. He took some tequila shots, got in his car, and started home. While he was on the way, a man decided to cross in the middle of the street, and Stallworth was impaired to the point that he could not react in time, killing the man.

Vick's crime involved the systematic development of a kennel and training systems in order for the dog fights to take place. There was a lot of thought put into making their dogs as effective as possible.

Stallworth's was a crime of irresponsibility. After striking the man, he exited his car, and called police himself, staying on the scene. He knew that he would be in trouble, but after making a mistake, he stayed to try and take responsibility.

Those are all facts, which make it sound as if Vick is, by far, the worse of the criminals in this case. Here a few more interesting points.

Vick served 23 months, with fines and loss of income to the point that he had to declare bankruptcy.

Stallworth came to a significant (undisclosed) financial agreement with the family of his victim, and was convicted to serve 24 days in jail. Yes, you read that right, 24 days.

Wow, a human life is worth 24 days.

Some would say that 2 years for killing dogs that you own seems a bit out of line. Yes, there was cruelty, and yes that should be punished, and perhaps Vick should have lost his career and/or a good portion of it as a sacrifice the PR gods. They are dogs, a bit off from normal society that they were put down for not being dangerous enough, but no other owner will be looked at twice for putting a dog down that they own for any reason. Perhaps, he should have received a primarily financial fine for running an illegal, interstate enterprise.

That said, Stallworth was said to have received easy treatment for a couple of reasons. He did not have a significant criminal history. This was indeed an accident that could have happened to any of us. It would be a fair wager that nearly all of us, at some point in our 20's, drove home with a Blood Alchohol number comparable or worse than Dante's. The only traffic law he violated was the speed limit, which most of us do every day, and he was not exceeding it by any great amount. All of that said. His irresponsibility led to the loss of a human life.

So, in my mind, the base comparison is between the intended and planned killing of 2 sentient but lower beings, which was hidden from authorities and committed in a manner more cruel than necessary AND the accidental death of human being which was brought to the attention of the authorities by an apparently remorseful defendant.

After giving this a lot of thought, I have 2 thoughts.

1. Vick deserved the more severe of the 2 punishments as he planned, funded, and orchestrated an activity which by definition will lead to the painful death of living beings on a regular basis. His financial result could not have been much more severe than it was, and any more severe would have punished people not directly involved with the crime. The amount of time he should serve can be debated, but it was considerable.

2. Stallworth should have received a more severe punishment. The little that they shared about the financial compensation that he worked out with his victim's family makes it sound as if that was a very generous gesture. It is good that he looked out for the family of his victim whether it is a calculated or true sign of remorse. However, the courts missed the chance to give a message here, and I think that is something that we can all regret. If he had spent even a year in prison, it would have been enough to put a thought in the back of other celebrities heads that they will also be held responsible.

That said, I feel bad for Dante because this is something that is going to haunt him. The only thing that is going to haunt Vick is the fact that he is broke. That says a lot about the men in question, and probably why they got the punishments that they did.

Some would question why a human life is worth less than 2 dogs (which is the number of dogs they were able to prove Vick was actually involved with killing). I don't think the worth of the life is the question at hand. The question is intent.
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