No good deed goes unpunished

“If the boy responsible doesn’t own up then the whole class, and I do mean the whole class, will stay behind after school.”

I have no idea if teachers can still do this but if not I’m guessing that those of us past out mid 30s can probably remember hearing it at least once, and unless we happened to be the boy – or for the sake of equality, the girl – responsible we probably thought that it was bloody unfair. We mightn’t have even seen the boy/girl/hermaphrodite/person of indeterminate gender responsible for doing whatever it was doing it whenever they did and be as much in the dark about it as the teacher, so why this great love of collective punishment? As an adult I’ve come to suspect that it’s because trying to shame a confession out of someone, or failing that to get others to point the finger, is just a hell of a lot easier than the alternative and that often there won’t even be an alternative. Does that justify collective punishment in classrooms? I’m not sure but I’ll leave that as a question for parents with school age children to ponder, assuming, as I said before, that it’s even allowed these days.

But I am sure that when it’s a situation between adults and the state collective punishment is highly undesirable.

“If the person responsible doesn’t own up then the whole neighbourhood, and I do mean the entire postcode, will be put under house arrest.”

We’d go crazy if they said that, wouldn’t we? Well, I hope we would but seeing as how if you changed ‘house arrest’ to ‘fingerprinted and DNA swabbed’ a lot of people would nod approvingly perhaps not. Certainly there’s not enough objection to collective punishment in this part of the world when it comes to motoring offences and car confiscation, which as I’ve mentioned here before frequently punish the innocent owner of a vehicle as well as the person who committed an offence while driving it. Whether it’s because more vehicles get loaned to untrustworthy dickheads in the Perth area or whether it’s because the WA media have just picked up on this earlier I don’t know, but most of the examples of excessive punishment of innocents, i.e. confiscating the car for a period of weeks, seem to be in West Oz, while here in the eastern states it usually seems to be a couple of days. But just in case anyone in this bottom right hand corner of the country thinks that’s the worst that can happen we’ve just had a good reminder from Victoria Police that they can impound a car for something the owner didn’t do for just as long as their west coast colleagues can.

And yes, they bloody well are prepared to do it.

A man caught speeding through streets in Melbourne’s busy inner east this morning told police he was running late for an exam.

Police said the 21-year-old man was speeding along Swan Street in Richmond, ran a red light at Lennox Street and went through a pedestrian crossing before attempting to avoid police near Docker Street around 9.30am.

The Altona Meadows man was picked up travelling more than 100km/h in a 40 zone.

[…]

His friend’s car will be impounded for 30 days and he will also need to pay $689 towing and storage costs.

I don’t want to give the impression that I excuse this kind of driving because I don’t. Many people in Melbourne will know Swan Street and anyone else can tell with a quick look at Google Maps that it’s not really a 100+ km/h (62+ mph in old money) road – it’s a tram route, there are often parked cars narrowing the road to just one lane each way (shared with the trams) and there are lots of shops, often with delivery vehicles coming and going (the Street View image shows this pretty clearly). Personally I’m not sure 40 km/h isn’t a tad on the low side and doubt it’s significantly safer than the old 50 limit it used to have, but it’s not somewhere I’d feel safe doing 100 even if it was the middle of the night and the road was empty. If he really was going that fast, and since the driver in one of the WA cases was eventually acquitted I’m going to stress ‘if’, then he’s a complete dickhead that I can’t raise much sympathy for. No, nobody got hurt and as far as the speeding bit goes it is, as is the norm with speeding, a victimless crime. It’s the driving like a tool part that puts people at risk and which, rather than speeding, The Age says he’s being charged with:

The man is expected to be charged on summons for driving in a manner dangerous, speed dangerous and evade police.

Ignoring the fact that the subbies must napping on job when let that sentence though, if what’s been reported is accurate I have no sympathy with the guy at all, and if I was on the jury and felt the evidence supported it I’d say guilty of driving like a dickhead, and possibly speed dangerous and evade police to boot. But I can sympathise with his mate who has lost the use of his car for a month no matter what happens now. Even if the driver pays the storage costs and then goes to court and proves that he wasn’t speeding it doesn’t help because the case won’t be heard until months after the owner gets his car back, so the result of the court case will be moot. Win, lose or mistrial the owner of the car, who, since lending your property to a tool isn’t a crime, will not himself be in court having not been charged with anything, gets punished anyway. And I have no idea if a successfully defended case would mean that the police are required to compensate the whoever ended up paying that $689 storage charge. I’d bloody hope so but I wouldn’t be shocked to discover that they weren’t.

Some people would say that’s too bad and just the risk you run when you lend your car to an idiot, but how is an individual supposed to know the person borrowing it is going to do something idiotic? People are neither mind readers nor fortune tellers. You might balk at giving your keys to a young or inexperienced driver or someone with a heap of points, but at the end of the day if you were to lend your car to me, a driver of twenty years with a clean licence, you’d still be trusting me to behave with it. If I betray that trust you’ve already been wronged, so why does the law feel the need to punish you even more by depriving you of your property that had been used in a way you weren’t aware of and did not consent to? Do a mate a favour and if he abuses your faith in him then law comes round and stamps on your face. Hardly justice, is it?

This is a terrible kind of collective punishment, far worse than knowingly punishing innocents because establishing the identity of the guilty is too difficult or impossible because the identity of the alleged offender is known from the outset and because even for them the presumption of innocence is reversed – supposedly unthinkable where the English legal system has been a significant influence, but all too common when it comes to traffic offences which are typically victimless crimes. And worst of all it’s a wrong that Victoria’s Liberal In Name Only government appears not to have the slightest interest in putting right.

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Posted on June 14, 2012, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on No good deed goes unpunished.

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