Does the punishment really fit the crime?

November 3, 2011

Political Theory

On March 31 around 2:30 pm a barn was set on fire in Saline, Michigan (a town approximately 10 miles south of Ann Arbor). Two teens, one 18 year old and one 17 year old, were charged with arson. The barn was destroyed but no one was hurt. Both teens plead guilty stating they had been smoking and lighting strands of hay on fire and stamping them out. Recently the older teen went to trial and received up to 10 years in prison. The judge awarded him with 56 days of credit and could be released as early as June 6, 2012.  The other teen will have his trial within the next month. (Teen sent to prison for barn blaze)

Firefighters peak through the side of a barn during a fire at a vacant barn on Warner Rd. off Michigan Ave. in Saline on Thursday afternoon. Melanie Maxwell I

Personally, I believe receiving 10 years for burning down a barn in which no one was hurt is ridiculous. Even if he is released early, the teen will still spend about a year in jail. Now a year may not sound as ridiculous, but compare his year long punishment to another Saline person’s punishment who unintentionally killed a bicyclist, it makes you wonder what the Saline judges are thinking.

On July 28, 2009, a 20-year old driver struck a man riding. The bicyclist was riding down the white line of the road when the driver looked down to play with his radio when he hit him. He was not found to be under the influence nor was he using his cell phone. It was just an unfortunate accident. He later plead guilty to negligent homicide, but he will not face any jail time. The Washtenaw County Circuit Judge made a deal with the driver in which under the Holmes Youthful Trainee Act he will not have to serve time. (Man enter plea in Saline cyclist’s death)

Ghost Bike Memorial along Maple Road in honor of the cyclist

The act allows judges to place youth (ages 17-20) who plead guilty for committing a crime on probation. Certain crimes are exempt from the act, but if the youth complete the program they will not have a criminal record. The charges also stay out of public record.

I personally believe this act is great for youth who do not have a criminal past and made a mistake. It gives them a second chance and the opportunity to grow up and mature.

I understand that the driver did not mean to hit the bicyclist and it was a terrible accident. From the news articles, it seems as though he is truly sorry for this accident and living with the guilt of killing a man seems punishment enough. My question is why don’t the students who burned down a barn get the same second chance? I know its difficult to compare crimes, but in my opinion burning down a barn where no one got hurt, is far less serious than killing a man even if it was an accident. Giving the teen 10 years is just too much. What is the judge trying to prove?

What do you think? Does the punishment fit the crime? Furthermore what is your opinion on the Holmes Youthful Trainee Act? How can judges decide who gets it? If their crime and case fit into the guidelines of the act should all youth be given a second chance?



Subscribe to our RSS feed and social profiles to receive updates.

3 Comments on “Does the punishment really fit the crime?”

  1. abswang Says:

    The teenagers were being reckless in this situation, but I agree and find the 10 years in prison to be a little extreme. They not only take away 10 years of his life, but 10 important years. This boy can’t attend college, or get his career started. The next 10 years of all of our lives are the ones where we figure out who we are, who we want to be, and who we end up being. By putting this boy in prison, the judge basically decided to take away his chance of a successful future. Furthermore, the driver who killed the biker makes the situation seem worse. I understand the crash was an accident, but then again so was the barn burning down. I’m sure the teenagers didn’t go to the barn to smoke to intentionally burn the barn down; it just happened. While our country’s judicial system is designed to try to get rid of any favoritism, I find this extremely hard to believe in this case. I think the judge was definitely trying to prove a point by punishing these teenagers as harshly as they did, just to make a point and to make a scapegoat of the boys. While this is a hard situation to judge, my gut tells me that the two crimes are not on equal levels, let alone does the former crime deserve 10 years in jail.

  2. luniho Says:

    I’ve followed the case of the two teenagers who burned down the barn for several months; the elder of the two used to date a friend of mine. I personally agree that the punishment imposed upon him was excessive. Though the destruction of the barn constituted a loss of thousands of dollars, it seems that repayment of that debt would be more useful to the owner of that barn and society at large. Imprisoning a teenager only ascertains that they will be unable to function in “the outside world” later in life.

    It seems to me that the sentence given this teenager was intended to form a statement of the consequences attending a failure to adhere to the law. I feel like theorists like Hobbes would support the sentencing; the state of war must be avoided at all costs, and activity like arson brings society dangerously close to that boundary.

  3. Connor Baharozian Says:

    I think that you make a very interesting argument here. I think the key to this whole comparison is whether or not the 2 teens intentionally burned the barn down. According to their account, it was an accident. If they unintentionally burned the barn down, then I do not believe their punishment fits their crime. Both the killing of the bicyclist and the burning down of the barn, if both unintentional, should result in a greater penalty for the murderer of the bicyclist. If, however, the burning of the barn was an intentional act, this punishment, though it shouldn’t be ten years in prison, should be greater than the punishment for the unintentional murdering of a bicyclist. Intent is the key difference. When the judge charged the 18 year old with 10 years of prison time, did he believe that the teen set the barn on fire on purpose?

    I believe that the act that allows 17-20 year olds to have a second chance and learn from their mistakes is great under one condition: the crime that they committed must be deemed to be unintentional. Yes, it is difficult to determine if many crimes are intentional or not, but this is up to the judge to decide. I believe that if a 17-20 year old intentionally commits a crime, they should have to serve some punishment

%d bloggers like this: