A crime with very little jail time, the debate over Negligent Homicide sentences

A crime with very little jail time, the debate over Negligent Homicide sentences

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Drunk drivers who kill do routinely go to jail, but a Hawaii News Now investigation shows most sober ones who hit pedestrians, don't receive any jail time at all.

While families want that practice to change, even many in law enforcement say the practice has a purpose.

"I felt like someone punched me in the gut," says Kim Funayama-Hall, who remembers the sudden and violent death of Aunty Edna last year.

"Basically I always said she was squished on the road like a Hawaiian cockroach and run over," she says.

Her Aunty Edna was legally in a crosswalk, midday in Makiki.   The 68-year old was struck by an SUV, which then rolled over her, as the driver failed to stop immediately.

71-year old Julianne Nowell was convicted of negligent homicide.  Her license was suspended for four years and she had to perform 500 hours of community service, but she received no jail time.

It's a sentence that is fairly typical and whether the system is tough enough is a debate growing louder in Hawaii.

On Kauai, even the chief prosecutor and chief of police disagree on the issue.

"A homicide is a homicide, whether it is done with a motor vehicle or with a knife or a gun," says Justin Kollar, the Kauai Prosecutor.

But Darryl Perry, the Kauai Police Chief says there is a difference, "If you look at the majority of the cases, the individuals involved in this type of events, they are not criminals."

Hawaii News Now analyzed four years of negligent homicide cases. We found that convicted intoxicated drivers go to jail 100 percent of the time, the most frequent sentence, ten years.

Experts say the drunk driving crackdown has worked.

But in the majority of fatalities that don't involve drinking, it's a very different story.

In 2012, a van killed Ruffy Paguirigan in a crosswalk on Kamehameha Highway. The driver got no jail time and a chance to have his record wiped clean.

The same for the driver who -- later that year -- swerved off Farrington Highway and killed Elena Barcena, a Kapolei mother.

"She was a loving wife. She (was) good to me," Oscar Barcena said of her then.

Our analysis found 25 convictions for negligent homicide over four years. Less than a third - eight people - received jail time. Those who did, often got 6-month sentences.

"Many of the circumstances are exactly what it is, unintended events. It is an accident and there is no malicious intent whatsoever," says Perry.

While the Kauai police chief says enforcement and awareness campaigns are helping to lower fatal car accidents, family members say, consequences will do more.

"Unless the judiciary starts treating this seriously its just going to continue to get worse," says Kim Funayama-Hall.

She hopes awareness of the issue will bring tougher sentences and ultimately make the streets safer for everyone crossing.

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