The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA


January 17, 2013

Tighten penalties on hit-and-run drivers

— As our lawmakers delve finally into the issue of prison overcrowding and its relationship to sentencing guidelines, we expect plenty of debate.

One discussion that caught our attention this week was a call for changes in Pennsylvania laws that some say might be encouraging drivers to flee the scene of an accident if they have been drinking.

A good starting point for serious discussion, don’t you agree?

Here is what some prosecutors and politicians have told an eastern Pennsylvania newspaper:

Under current law, people convicted of driving under the influence in a fatal accident face a mandatory minimum prison sentence of three years – but those who leave the scene and are caught after the alcohol has left their system usually can only be charged with fleeing the scene, which carries a one-year minimum term.

Officials believe that the mandatory minimum sentence for hit-and-run convictions should not only be equal to but higher than that for driving under the influence in a fatal crash.

The Associated Press reported that state Rep. Dave Reed, R-Indiana, last year proposed increasing the mandatory minimum penalty for hit-and-run drivers to three years, but that some state senators objected, saying mandatory minimum terms lead to overcrowded prisons.

We hope readers agree that a flaw exists here, one that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.

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