ERROL CASTENS: There ought to be a law

By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal

Being an advocate of the philosophy embodied at www.overcriminalized.com, it puts me in a bit of an uncomfortable position to be suggesting new laws.
Nevertheless, I have a couple of suggestions for the 2014 Mississippi Legislature: Make DUI manslaughter a self-evident offense, and make multiple murders a capital offense.
To be convicted of DUI manslaughter currently requires not only that the defendant be found to have unintentionally killed a human while driving under the influence of alcohol or other drugs but that there be another traffic offense involved – for example, speeding, reckless driving, tailgating.
Dustin Dill, then a 19-year-old student at the University of Mississippi, had a blood alcohol content about 50 percent above the legal limit for drivers 21 and older when the car he was driving struck and killed Amie Ewing in 2004. Because witnesses testified that Dill was not driving fast or erratically, however, he was acquitted of DUI manslaughter.
Amie Ewing also was intoxicated when she tried crossing Highway 6 on foot after leaving a football game at Ole Miss.
Had either she or Dill been sober, one could imagine that she might not have been struck.
The fact that Dill’s non-impairment might have prevented the tragedy leads me to believe that the law should recognize intoxication that leads to death as sufficient cause for conviction of DUI manslaughter, with or without other offenses. It’s nine years too late for Dustin Dill, but folks like him shouldn’t be held unaccountable through skillful lawyering and a legal technicality.
I don’t have a case to cite in arguing for capital status for multiple murders, but it also seems self-evidently sensible.
A murder conviction starts with the finding that a person has been unlawfully and intentionally killed. Under Mississippi law, capital murder – that which is eligible for either the death penalty or life without parole – requires an additional aggravating factor such as rape, kidnapping, burglary, arson, robbery or child abuse; the victim’s special protected status (child, public official, police, firefighter); a school setting; use of an explosive device; or a perpetrator already under a life sentence.
Surely it’s just an oversight in the law, but the effect is that a person who feels unjustly treated by an alderman and kills him can face the death penalty while a person who feels unjustly treated by the human race and kills 25 people at a grocery store will be eligible for parole someday.
There ought to be a law.
Daily Journal reporter ERROL CASTENS is based in Oxford. Contact him at errol.castens@journalinc.com.