In 2005, 7-year-old Katie Flynn was gruesomely decapitated when a drunk driver smashed into the limousine that was carrying her as well as her newlywed parents and grandparents. The driver of the limo, Stanley Rabinowitz, was killed on impact, and the remaining passengers all sustained life-threatening injuries. Martin Heidgen, the drunk driver, sustained only minor injuries.
The only thing more controversial than the accident itself was the Flynn vs. Heidgen case. The prosecution took the charges to a new level, arguing fervently that Heidgen should be charged with murder instead of manslaughter, a fight that proved fruitful. Heidgen was convicted of second-degree murder and received a sentence of 18 years to life in prison, a verdict that was unheard of for DUI deaths.
Last Sunday, 60 Minutes on CBS featured the tragic story of Katie Flynn, almost four years after the incident, to bring up the new controversy about the punishment for drunk driving deaths. Many prosecutors, with passionate support from the families of victims of drunk driving crashes, are adamant about changing DUI killings to a capital crime in the United States. One of the major disputes revolves around whether or not 25-to-life or the death penalty is too serious a punishment for the crime.
Many also argue that the conviction of murder is unjust because drunk drivers do not act with the intent to kill. Without proof of premeditation or intent, the act does not constitute murder according to the legal definition of the crime. In the case of Flynn vs. Heidgen, the prosecution found a way around that, however, by labeling the offense ‘depraved indifference murder’. They were able to convince the jury that Heidgen showed a depraved indifference to human life when he made the decision to drink and drive. A common response to this verdict says that when intoxicated, a person cannot make sound decisions, and therefore should not be held responsible for the events that pursue. The obvious refutation to that follows that if a person is aware of the fact that alcohol impairs judgment, as most people are, they are completely responsible for their actions since they consciously made the choice to disregard the possible consequences.
The verdict on the dispute itself is not out yet, but the question is still up in the air: Should DUI killings be equivalent to premeditated murder, or would this be a seriously flawed change to the U.S. legal system?