What a life is worth

Washington Post: Last month then-Rep. William J. Janklow, R-S.D., was convicted of second-degree manslaughter for the death in August of a man named Randolph Scott, who had the misfortune to be riding his motorcycle through an intersection when Mr. Janklow ran a stop sign while speeding. Last week South Dakota Circuit Judge Rodney Steele sentenced Mr. Janklow, a former governor with a history of appalling driving, to a mere 100 days in jail. Mr. Janklow will be eligible for daytime release for community service after only 30 days. And he will spend the next three years on probation, during which -- mercifully -- he will not be allowed to drive. Yet, assuming he lives up to the terms of his probation, his felony conviction can then be expunged. So much for any pretense that the meek and the powerful stand equally before the same bar of justice.
Indeed, if Mr. Janklow's sentence seems rather light, it's because it is. In the past 15 years, reports the Sioux Falls Argus Leader, 40 people have been convicted in South Dakota of second-degree manslaughter. Of these, 32 served either prison or jail time; the average prison sentence was seven years and the average jail term six months. Only seven received probation, and only one -- who was already serving time on a separate federal charge -- received a suspended sentence.
Unearned leniency
We don't believe in mandatory minimum sentencing and respect the fact that South Dakota still vests discretionary sentencing authority in its judges. All cases are different, so comparing Mr. Janklow's crime to others is hard. That said, what exactly about Mr. Janklow's behavior warrants leniency? His recklessness behind the wheel before he killed Mr. Scott was a matter of public mirth to him, and troopers used to look the other way rather than ticket him.
After the accident, he did not forthrightly accept responsibility for what he had done but went to trial on a laughable theory that his diabetes had made him do it. None of this argues for mercy now. Nor is the message such a light sentences sends -- that for a congressman who kills, losing his job is punishment enough -- a healthy one. It's hard to imagine that had roles been reversed and Mr. Scott had killed Mr. Janklow that he would have found such solicitude from South Dakota courts.