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Senate Bill 1369 — Manslaughter, penalties

Senate Bill 1369 — Manslaughter, penalties

Parrish Miller
February 21, 2024

Bill Description: Senate Bill 1369 would add a severe mandatory minimum penalty for vehicular manslaughter under certain circumstances.

Rating: -1

Does it directly or indirectly create or increase penalties for victimless crimes or non-restorative penalties for nonviolent crimes? Conversely, does it eliminate or decrease penalties for victimless crimes or non-restorative penalties for non-violent crimes?

Senate Bill 1369 would amend Section 18-4007, Idaho Code, which defines and lays out penalties for vehicular manslaughter.

The current penalty for vehicular manslaughter when caused by a driver who is driving "under the influence of alcohol, drugs or any other intoxicating substances" is a fine of up to $15,000 and/or incarceration for up to 15 years. 

Senate Bill 1369 would add a new provision that says if a person has a previous conviction — at any point in his or her life — for driving under the influence or "any substantially conforming foreign criminal violation," the penalty would increase to a "mandatory minimum fixed term of imprisonment of ten (10) years, not to exceed twenty-five (25) years" and a fine of up to $20,000.

There are two problems that must be addressed in this bill. The first problem, which applies to all mandatory minimums, is that it is always possible for extenuating circumstances in a specific case to make a mandatory minimum sentence manifestly unjust. This means that mandatory minimum sentencing laws fundamentally subvert the notion of justice, which requires broad judicial discretion regarding sentencing.

The second problem regards the trigger for the enhanced penalty. Most laws that create enhanced penalties for a second or subsequent offense include a time frame during which the repeat offense must occur, such as 3 or 5 years. The idea behind such laws is that repeated offenses show a stubborn or flagrant disregard for the law, justifying enhanced penalties.

This bill does not contain such a time frame, which means that a prior conviction for driving under the influence at any point in a person's life, even decades prior to the second offense, would trigger the mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years of imprisonment required by this bill. 

This provision lacks the normal nexus and logic required to justify an enhanced penalty. Whatever the appropriate penalty for vehicular manslaughter might be, a prior conviction for driving under the influence many years ago (particularly in a case where no one was harmed) does not warrant an automatic penalty enhancement, especially one that includes a severe mandatory minimum sentence.


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