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September 7, 2016

Another interesting real (local) case to consider in light of punishment theories

Even while on the road I have followed and been impressed by recent discussions regarding the AP article about charging drug dealers with homicide for overdose deaths.  And, based on this reporting of a notable sentencing outcome emerging this week from a court just down the road from Moritz, I wonder if folks might refect on what punishment theories were in play.  Here are lengthy excerpts from the story, which is headlined "Driver gets 13 years in prison for 2014 crash that killed two Downtown":

Terrance Trent wept and whimpered, clutching a tissue to his face in a Franklin County courtroom, as he listened to anguished statements about what was lost when his reckless driving caused a crash that killed two pedestrians at a Downtown intersection.

He continued weeping during the Tuesday hearing as he told the families of the dead that he was "so sorry" about what happened to Stephanie Fibelkorn, 21, and Bill Lewis, 58. "I've tried to understand what you're going through, I really have," he said. Looking upward with his hands seemingly clenched in prayer, he wailed, "If I could die right now to bring them back, I'd gladly do it."

Common Pleas Judge David Young said he saw no genuine remorse from Trent, who was convicted last month of two counts of aggravated vehicular homicide for the deaths and two counts of vehicular assault for injuring two others in the crash on Dec. 12, 2014. Young imposed the maximum sentence of 13 years in prison — five years for each death and 18 months for each of the injured — and suspended Trent's driver's license for life.

Fibelkorn's father was thankful for the maximum sentence and unmoved by Trent's tears. "I was disheartened to see Mr. Trent crying today," Stephen Fibelkorn said after the hearing. "I find that he cries for himself and no one else. I don’t believe there’s been an ounce of remorse shown, other than for his own situation."

Trent, 63, was speeding west on East Broad Street in a pickup truck with a flat tire, running red lights and weaving through traffic, finally slamming the truck into a school bus at the busy intersection with High Street. The impact knocked the bus over the curb, killing the pedestrians and injuring the bus driver and the passenger in Trent's truck. Trent testified during his trial that the passenger, his girlfriend, was to blame because she was striking him with a full can of soda as he drove, causing him to go into "panic mode" and not realize what he was doing.

Lewis was the chief mobility engineer for the city of Columbus, working to keep streets safe for drivers and pedestrians. Stephanie Fibelkorn was an Ohio State University engineering student working as an intern in his office. She dreamed of one day working as a Disney "imagineer," designing attractions for the company's amusement parks. The two were walking to a morning meeting when they were struck. She died at the scene, and he died two weeks later at OhioHealth Grant Medical Center.

Fibelkorn's parents told the judge that they have sold their Downtown home to escape the continual reminders of the crash. Mr. Fibelkorn called himself "a broken man, unable to contain my emotions."...

Rhonda Lewis spoke about what the loss of her husband, a loving father, meant to her and their two children. She told the judge that Trent deserved a life sentence "for the destruction in our lives."

Defense attorney Steve Dehnart said his client has mental-health issues and that a maximum sentence "would achieve nothing but revenge."

Assistant Prosecutor Dan Cable told the judge that Trent's actions and lack of remorse cried out for the maximum. "Mr. Trent still does not get it," he said.

September 7, 2016 in Notable real cases | Permalink

Comments

The victims' families seem to lean heavily toward the retribution theory of punishment. They mention the punishments that they think the driver "deserves," even if those punishments (i.e. a life sentence) likely would not have much utilitarian value. In the longer article there is a quote from a family member saying that the victims' families "are saddened that the state of Ohio views this as a minor, five-year punishable offense for a death when other states treat it like a 30-year sentence like it should be." The families seem not to be satisfied with the "fairness" of the sentences available in Ohio. I think the families' views go even beyond retribution. At some point, it is important to remember that the driver did not set out with the goal of killing someone with his vehicle. Intent should play a role in determining what punishment is deserved.

The defense attorney, on the other hand, seems to be take a more utilitarian view of punishment when he talks about what the punishment would "achieve." I understand his point that a maximum punishment "would achieve nothing but revenge." It is unlikely that another person will see the defendant's sentence and be deterred from accidentally driving a truck into a bus. It might incapacitate the defendant, but so might revoking his license or other less harsh means. It is hard to guess what rehabilitative value might come from the punishment, but if the defendant is mentally ill as his attorney claims, other treatment would likely be more appropriate. Overall, it is difficult to apply utilitarian principles to crimes that don't rely on intentional actions (such as ORC 2903.06 Aggravated vehicular homicide, the main relevant statute here).

Posted by: Elizabeth H. | Sep 7, 2016 11:41:41 PM

I definitely see both sides of the coin in this case. I think Elizabeth was exactly right as to the punishment theories that are in play.

It's clear to me why Trent receiving a maximum sentence here is just deserts. It's incredibly frustrating that someone would drive with such wanton disregard for the law and for the safety of others. Driving over the speed limit is admittedly bad (sorry Berman). Driving with a flat tire is also clearly wrong - and stupid. Running red lights while weaving in and out of traffic is a whole other level of stupidity and disrespect for other people. For someone to be doing all of these things at once I would say is highly criminal and worthy of some serious punishment, even if no one had been injured. Factor in 2 deaths and 2 injuries and every fiber of me wants to sucker punch Trent with the absolute maximum punishment.

But what would that really serve to do? Like Elizabeth, I doubt that this sentence deters anyone from engaging in similar activities. The fact that these activities were patently dangerous, illegal and immoral probably serve most to deter this kind of behavior.

I also have fairly little hope that Trent, a 63 year old with an apparent mental health issue, will have a chance at rehabilitation or any "restorative" type of actions to make society whole again. I think he's probably too old and our current system too ill suited to make a real or impactful change on him. Frankly at 63 if you're still this type of a jerk I'm not entirely sure it's worth the effort of rehabilitation just so that you can re-enter the world at 76 years old.

Still, society as a whole probably doesn't gain much by throwing the book at Trent (even if we don't lose much by not having him in the mainstream population for the foreseeable future). If he does have a legitimate mental health issue I think the most utility we can hope for in a sentence is one that provides Trent an actual opportunity at treatment and rehabilitation - as well as an opportunity for parole provided he meet a very serious and stringent set of requirements, preferably ones that the victim's family have agreed upon.

Posted by: Joe B | Sep 8, 2016 2:36:25 PM

I agree with my classmates' interpretation on the penological philosophies held by the victims' families and the defense attorney. Furthermore, I especially agree with Elizabeth's comment that the victims' families desire more than what a limited retributionist would deem fit. in determining one's just deserts, intent surely must be a factor.

What struck me, though, was the apparent penelogical philosophy held by the prosecuting attorney. Though the families are obviously looking to give Mr. Trent his just deserts, a statement made by the prosecuting attorney betrays a different penelogical philosophy - rehabilitation. In arguing for the maximum sentence, the prosecuting attorney said, " Mr. Trent still does not get it." Retributionists would not care whether Mr. Trent understood or acknowledged the extent of his heinous actions. Instead, just as the victims' families did, they would look at the harm caused upon them and desire to inflict similar harm on to Mr. Trent in return.

Why does Mr Trent "not getting it" equate to rehabilitation? The prosecutor's statement presents the argument that Mr. Tent deserves a more severe sentence because of his apparent lack of genuine remorse. Assumedly, if Mr. Trent had shown genuine remorse the prosecutor would have felt a less severe punishment may be acceptable. So.... why?

I believe the answer can be traced back to The Discovery of the Asylum, by David Rothman. In this article, Mr. Rothman quotes supporters of Pennsylvania's separate system prison plan implement in 1826 saying, "Each Individual will necessarily be made the instrument of his own punishment; his conscience will be the avenger of society. . . . [the convict] will be compelled to reflect on the error of his ways, to listen to the reproaches of conscience, to the expostulations of religion (Kaplan pg. 48)" It was the supporters' hope that the powers of the conscious, coupled with escape from the temptations of the outside world, would rehabilitate.

In short, I believe the prosecution attorney's statement can be seen as rehabilitative. His argument in support of the maximum sentence was essentially that Mr. Trent refuses to "get" what he did as evidenced by his lack of remorse, showing that he needs some time away to reflect.

Posted by: Joshua M. | Sep 8, 2016 5:59:54 PM

Defense attorney Steve Dehnart's argument that such a sentence achieves nothing but revenge is clearly influenced by utilitarian theory. But his argument seems to be flawed because it is possible that a maximum sentence actually promotes "utility" in the society. Given the fact of his age and his mental issues, it might be a better idea to put him into prison rather than letting him stay at rehabilitation center.Besides, his remorse at court does not actually matter even if the judge is an utilitarian because that is not the potential for rehabilitation.

Posted by: Jiangzhou Fu | Sep 8, 2016 6:14:06 PM

Where the parties’ arguments are considered, Judge Young’s sentence seems to adopt a certain retributivist flavor. Notwithstanding Defendant’s emotional display in court, the good judge sustains the prosecution’s attitude that Defendant’s "lack of remorse" warrants the maximum sentence permitted by law. To what deficiency of remorse does the prosecution refer? Was Defendant’s demeanor in court not patently one of contrition? These questions intimate the trial court’s view that the instant offenses are egregious, insomuch that Defendant’s mere culpability is sufficient to dissolve notions of mercy and other utilitarian motivations.

As to the departure from utilitarianism, Joe B made an excellent observation. Defendant’s advanced age (i.e. 63 years) somewhat limits his capacity for rehabilitation (per counsel’s mental health affirmation). Indeed, Defendant has heretofore lived what is likely the majority of his life. Consequently, it is only reasonable to presume Defendant has become 'set in his ways.' Suppose, however, that Defendant were a much younger man – perhaps a student at OSU with a promising future. In this hypothetical, would we be so quick to bolster retributivism? This amended case appears to be putative ground for rehabilitative efforts. Would we not justify this alternative treatment by respecting individual autonomy, to the extent that a younger defendant should be afforded an opportunity to learn from his actions? Is it ironic that retributivism is founded on this notion of individual autonomy?

Posted by: T. G. Aust | Sep 9, 2016 7:55:29 AM

I distinctly remember this happening. I had just started a new job downtown. I was with a group of other interns just milling around outside – without any awareness that one person had lost her life and another would lose his life at a later time. It was just before Christmas and everyone in our group was restless.

I can literally picture being on High Street and seeing the corner by East Broad blocked off. I distinctly remember seeing the bus and wondering if there had been children on the bus. But then we eventually forgot the sirens, went back to our building, and waited for our weekend to begin.

We later found out what happened the next week. The one thing I will distinctly remember for the rest of my life is how Stephanie Filkeborn’s father had texted both her and her mother (who all worked downtown) to just check in after finding out about the accident.

I remember wondering what the families were going to do for the holidays. I remember thinking about how the most wonderful time of the year would most likely be transformed into a nightmare.

The incident in 2014 has legitimately stuck with me to this day. It personally resonated with me because of my perceived similarities to Stephanie. Stephanie was an intern downtown – I was an intern downtown. I had stood at the same spot so many past times. My dad receives Buckeye Alerts and texts me safety dad texts all the time. He often has my sister and brother, who both live in Columbus too, check in on me. I think that is why the description of Stephanie’s father texting her has really stuck with me.

For all the time I spent thinking about the victims, I legitimately do not think I thought about the driver for more than a minute. I truthfully invested a lot of thought into this incident, but very little, if any at all, into the driver.

Reading the article about his sentencing is truthfully difficult to read. It is startlingly to have the description of Mr. Trent’s tears followed by Judge Young’s firm declaration that he saw no remorse.

The stark contrast continues with quotes from the victim’s family members. There seems to be an undeniable and intense focus on retribution throughout Mr. Trent’s sentencing. From the Assistant Prosecutor to the Judge to the family members, it seems that they plainly want Mr. Trent to pay for his actions that day. They want him put behind bars and have society throw away the keys. The focus and heart of the article seems to be what was lost on December 12, 2014 rather than the actual sentencing. There does not seem to be much room for utilitarian thought or feeling in any of the sentencing.

The difficulty in reading about the sentencing of Mr. Trent begins with the description of his tears and ends with his attorney’s description of his mental health issues. My gut instinct reading the article is to agree both mentally and emotionally with the attorney’s assessment that a maximum sentence "would achieve nothing but revenge." It seems to be a sentence solely for retribution. But it is difficult for me personally to disagree and be disapproving of Fibelkorn’s father for being “thankful for the maximum sentence and unmoved by Trent’s tears.”

In the prior AP article about the heroin epidemic, I remember trying to see how I would feel if I was a family member of the deceased and my feelings towards punishment. It’s odd with this article because I literally did try to put my feet in the shoes of the Fibelkorn family about two years ago.

Walking around in someone else’s shoes does not make the idea of putting someone behind bars for a simply carless and incredibly reckless action that had a traumatic impact on the lives of so many easier. I believe I want our justice system to move with a utilitarian mindset, but it is difficult to argue against retribution to a grieving and heartbroken family.

Posted by: Maggie O'Shea | Sep 9, 2016 2:41:27 PM

I distinctly remember this happening. I had just started a new job downtown. I was with a group of other interns just milling around outside – without any awareness that one person had lost her life and another would lose his life at a later time. It was just before Christmas and everyone in our group was restless.

I can literally picture being on High Street and seeing the corner by East Broad blocked off. I distinctly remember seeing the bus and wondering if there had been children on the bus. But then we eventually forgot the sirens, went back to our building, and waited for our weekend to begin.

We later found out what happened the next week. The one thing I will distinctly remember for the rest of my life is how Stephanie Filkeborn’s father had texted both her and her mother (who all worked downtown) to just check in after finding out about the accident.

I remember wondering what the families were going to do for the holidays. I remember thinking about how the most wonderful time of the year would most likely be transformed into a nightmare.

The incident in 2014 has legitimately stuck with me to this day. It personally resonated with me because of my perceived similarities to Stephanie. Stephanie was an intern downtown – I was an intern downtown. I had stood at the same spot so many past times. My dad receives Buckeye Alerts and texts me safety dad texts all the time. He often has my sister and brother, who both live in Columbus too, check in on me. I think that is why the description of Stephanie’s father texting her has really stuck with me.

For all the time I spent thinking about the victims, I legitimately do not think I thought about the driver for more than a minute. I truthfully invested a lot of thought into this incident, but very little, if any at all, into the driver.

Reading the article about his sentencing is truthfully difficult to read. It is startlingly to have the description of Mr. Trent’s tears followed by Judge Young’s firm declaration that he saw no remorse.

The stark contrast continues with quotes from the victim’s family members. There seems to be an undeniable and intense focus on retribution throughout Mr. Trent’s sentencing. From the Assistant Prosecutor to the Judge to the family members, it seems that they plainly want Mr. Trent to pay for his actions that day. They want him put behind bars and have society throw away the keys. The focus and heart of the article seems to be what was lost on December 12, 2014 rather than the actual sentencing. There does not seem to be much room for utilitarian thought or feeling in any of the sentencing.

The difficulty in reading about the sentencing of Mr. Trent begins with the description of his tears and ends with his attorney’s description of his mental health issues. My gut instinct reading the article is to agree both mentally and emotionally with the attorney’s assessment that a maximum sentence "would achieve nothing but revenge." It seems to be a sentence solely for retribution. But it is difficult for me personally to disagree and be disapproving of Fibelkorn’s father for being “thankful for the maximum sentence and unmoved by Trent’s tears.”

In the prior AP article about the heroin epidemic, I remember trying to see how I would feel if I was a family member of the deceased and my feelings towards punishment. It’s odd with this article because I literally did try to put my feet in the shoes of the Fibelkorn family about two years ago.

Walking around in someone else’s shoes does not make the idea of putting someone behind bars for a simply carless and incredibly reckless action that had a traumatic impact on the lives of so many easier. I believe I want our justice system to move with a utilitarian mindset, but it is difficult to argue against retribution to a grieving and heartbroken family.

Posted by: Maggie O'Shea | Sep 9, 2016 2:41:27 PM

I agree with the comments that my classmates have made. By the the defense stating that his client has mental issues and that the sentence would not achieve anything but revenge the defense attorney seemed to have been coming from a utilitarian point of view. When saying his client has mental issues he is making a distinction that his client is not like the rest of society. That by giving his client the sentence he was given will do no good for the society and to deter others because his client was a special case. This goes with the utilitarian point of view because it has the interest of society in my and tailors each punishment to the person at hand.

The assistant prosecutor's comment about the defendant showing no remorse and still not getting it could be seen as both retributive and educative/paternalistic theory view point. It could be retributive because it is like the prosecutor is saying he deserves to go to prison. He did the crime and now it is time for him to pay for what he has done. It also could be the educative/paternalistic theory because that theory focuses on educating and improving. The comment made about him still not getting it is like saying the defendant needs to understand what his actions have caused. I think of it as if a child were to get in trouble and they still seem not to have changed or care the parent might increase the punishment for the child for them to understand that what they are doing or have done is not okay and by using other maybe more extreme measures the child may get it finally.

Posted by: Ayesha C. | Sep 10, 2016 11:31:44 AM

I agree with my classmates that this is based on both theories.

Families seems to hope revenge the defendant, who killed their children. Their idea would be that "because he killed my son / daughter, kill him." This idea is "an eye for an eye" type discussion, and more convertible to retributivism than utilitarianism. The focus is what he did, and not to prevent the same accident or to make him more careful person in the future.

Defense attorney stated a maximum sentence would "achieve nothing but revenge." This statement shows hid goal is not revenge, and it is not retributivism. What he might want to achieve is rehabilitate his temper and prevent him committing similar crime in the future.

Both approach sound quite reasonable, and I think both theory of punishment can apply to this case.

Posted by: Miki Someya | Sep 10, 2016 5:33:09 PM

I agree with my classmates that said the Defense attorney's argument was based on utilitarianism. However, I disagree with my classmates who think that it might be a better idea to put him in prison based on his "mental health issues." The fact that he has "mental health issues" is an extremely vague statement. Approximately 1 in 5 adults in the US experience a mental illness in a given year (National Alliance on Mental Illness). So the idea that we should incarcerate people for experiencing mental health issues is not only unrealistic, but inhumane. I think the main reason this individual received this sentence was based on retributivism, and the suggestion that people with "mental health issues" should be locked up for the protection of society is a dangerous statement.

Posted by: Claudia Cash | Sep 12, 2016 8:44:22 AM

I find that the retributivist instincts of victims interests and the utilitarian approach we know as "tough on crime" that is often embraced by law enforcement from the street cop to the prosecuting attorney creates an unholy alliance that leads us to mass incarceration.

As I get deeper into reading about theories of punishment and considering the comments of my classmates, it seems that there are worthy elements to be considered in retributivist and utilitarian theories of punishment, but that balance makes for the best outcomes. I understand that as a victim of a crime that our human instincts can lead us toward an insatiable desire for retribution. I also understand that as a police officer or prosecutor, it is difficult to deal with crime all day every day. This must make long sentences that incapacitate the "bad guys" seem very attractive (utilitarian goal).

However, I am of the belief that we should ask more of ourselves than just revenge and incapacitation when we consider solutions to our very real problems, be it reckless drivers, drug dealers, or even murderers. I hold this belief because I think it is the right approach on a human level and I know we are better than what we're doing now. Based on my experience, when these problems intersect with our other deep seeded issues (race and poverty), our theories get a tad inconsistent. Even if those things do not move you, it's becoming increasingly apparent that this mindset is EXPENSIVE. I believe our justice system can achieve more with less, especially if race and class were not such foundational issues. Again, I am a firm believer than rehabilitation does not get enough consideration in the formation of our criminal justice policies. I also believe that rehabilitative measures that might have been achievable are rendered pipe dreams when we feel the need to get revenge on or incapacitate too many of our citizens.

Posted by: David R. | Sep 12, 2016 9:53:05 AM

I strongly agree with Elizabeth's comment and it basically summarizes what I was thinking while reading the post. First, as discussed in class, an emphasis of the retributivist approach is "deserved" and that the criminal should be punished for the crime: the article states he "deserved a life sentence for the destruction in our lives." This approach only focuses on the crime Mr. Trent committed and as a result of that action, how he should be punished for it. There is no utilitarian aspect of this view on punishment because they are not worried about what the sentence would achieve or what is better for society, their sole emphasis on what punishment he deserves. The defense on the other hand, takes a more utilitarian approach be mentioning how a maximum sentence would not achieve anything and there are better or more appropriate punishments. However, I think when you break down the utilitarian approach, I don't believe deterrence, rehabilitation, or even incapacitation provide strength to the argument. This is most likely a one-time accident by the offender and a maximum punishment probably won't have a deterrence effect on other people who were not impacted by this case. In addition, I don't believe it will rehabilitate the offender and I think imprisonment solves the same problem as revoking his license permanently. However, I do believe to some extent, he needs to "pay" for the murders and thats where the retributivist approach shines through. I think this approach can lead to imprisoning too many people and as a result, it makes it more expensive on the taxpayers, but at the same time, regardless of intent, his negligence driving led to the death of two innocent people and injured others as well.

Posted by: Sophie D. | Sep 13, 2016 1:03:02 PM

In this particular case, multiple theories of punishment are evidently at play within the context of this horrid debacle. The easiest theory to identify is undoubtedly the retributivist mentalities held by the families whose lives have been forever altered by the conduct of Mr. Trent. Obviously, both of these families have suffered a significant loss, and are actively seeking some form of justice which may give them comfort. Thus, they wish to impose the maximum punishment one might receive aside from the death penalty which is life imprisonment. Nevertheless, the perceptions of the families can be interpreted as being Utilitarian as well.

Fibelkorn’s father was “unmoved by trent’s tears” because he did not truly believe that the perpetrator felt remorse for his crimes. I concur with the father in regards to Trent’s perceived remorse about the situation. Trent said, “If I could die right now to bring them back, I'd gladly do it.” These comments are troubling for me because they seem to exceed human expectation. Trent is essentially stating that he would accept the death penalty to make up for the loss of the individuals who were killed as a direct result of his recklessness. Nevertheless, Trent chose to utilize a defense attorney, as opposed to leaving his fate to the full discretion of the law. This implies to me that Trent truly did not mean what he said. Furthermore, it implies that he is willing to say whatever is necessary to acquire some modicum of sympathy which may alleviate his sentence.

As a result, one might interpret the positions of the families as a desire for the perpetrator to truly see the error of his ways, in hopes that he may never engage in criminal behavior of the like again. If their position is to be interpreted as wishing that this type of harm never befalls another, then it can be argued that their philosophies are in actuality, Utilitarian. Surely, the families don’t solely wish to see Mr. Trent behind bars. I believe they want the world to see the gravity of consequences which can ensue when reckless actions lead to the demise of others.

Nevertheless, there are various other philosophies at play in this reading. For example, the defense attorney clearly employs a utilitarian theory of punishment. She states, a harsh punishment “would achieve nothing but revenge." Thus, we can conclude that the defense attorney seeks an outcome which employs more than the classical “eye for an eye” theory of retribution.

Posted by: Matthew Carpenter | Sep 19, 2016 5:27:53 PM

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