They’re teenagers, Janna

by Pete Talbot

There’s a reason why we have two sets of laws for criminal activity: one for adults and one for kids. As I understand it, adults have a better understanding of right and wrong, and need to be held accountable for their actions. Kids, on the other hand, don’t have quite as developed a sense of the consequences of their actions.

That’s why we don’t straddle kids with the same sentences that are handed down to adults. It’s why, if a kid keeps his or her nose clean after committing a crime in their youth, we tend to expunge their records. That way, maybe the kid can grow up to have a productive life without the stigma of a criminal record.

Rep. Janna Taylor (R-Dayton) wants 16-and 17-year-olds convicted of vehicular homicide while under the influence to do hard time — say, 30 years in the state pen.

Granted, Montana has a serious DUI problem. The legislature has a number of bills in the hopper that will address this issue but this particular bill is as bad as it is ineffective:

“It is very questionable whether laws like these would have a deterrent effect,” said Niki Zupanic of the ACLU of Montana. “We are now piling on more and more crimes and pushing more and more juveniles into an adult corrections system.”

Just another example of compassionate conservatism: instead of educating our kids to the dangers of driving impaired, wait until they’ve killed somebody, send them to Deer Lodge and then throw away the key.


  1. Craig Moore

    Pete, your hyperbole about compassionate conservatism is a bit thick. From the Missoulian that you link:

    Supporters of the bill argue it is better to try minors for an alcohol-related crime that forces more treatment in the juvenile justice system.

    “We want to emphasize that for this 16- or 17-year-old who has committed this horrible crime, it is important that that person face appropriate consequences,” said Rebecca Sturdevant of Mothers Against Drunk Drivers. “If you are tried as a juvenile, it is a do-over.”

    The county attorneys association said there are just a few such cases a year where a juvenile would face the tougher charge allowing a penalty of up to 30 years.

    Holding a driver’s license carry’s adult responsibility. If drivers are too immature to understand the consequences of dangerous behavior, perhaps they should be denied driving privileges until they develop a sense of the consequences for their actions and are willing to accept full accountability.

    • JC

      And just how do you propose to test “the consequences of dangerous behavior”?

      Maybe we should withhold the ability to shoot a gun, or drink, or… have sex… until a person is “willing to accept full accountability”.

      And how do you judge a person’s willingness to be accountable?

      You open a big can of worms with your proposition.

      Maybe only those who pay property taxes should be allowed to drink, drive and shoot…

    • “If drivers are too immature to understand the consequences of dangerous behavior, perhaps they should be denied driving privileges until they develop a sense of the consequences for their actions and are willing to accept full accountability.”

      Isn’t that the theory of the 18 driving age in a lot of countries? Is that what you’re proposing here? A higher driving age would be safer, but I’m not sure our society as it is structured today could handle it.

      • JC

        The farm and ranch families and communities would be up in arms over it.

        We’d end up with a law with a bunch of exemptions if we went to an 18 year old licensing.

        You also end up impairing the ability of teens to get and hold jobs.

        NOt that I don’t think that licensing can be looked at and improved. I just don’t think an 18 year old law will ever fly in Montana.

  2. petetalbot

    We might agree on one point: perhaps a driver’s license shouldn’t be granted to anyone under 18. (There, I just pissed off every under-18-year-old in the state.)

    But since the state grants a license to 16-year-olds (14 and 1/2 gets you a permit), I’m just not ready to send kids away for 30 years because they do something really, really stupid. Were you ever a teenager, Craig?

    Education, not incarceration, is the key here.

    Anyway, I stand by my “hyperbole.”

    • Craig Moore

      Pete, I was a teenager for only 7 years. Went by quick. I’m all for educating teens that driving involves adult accountability. Make them read the law, write about it, and sign it as a condition to receiving a license. IF they will not accept the adult responsibility, then NO license.

      • Pogo Possum

        I fully appreciate everything you have said here Craig. Still, I am going to have to agree with Pete on this one. I am willing to consider revising the laws to force “. . . more treatment in the juvenile justice system” but I have to agree with Pete that a 16 year old should not be tried as an adult or face the same penalties.

        On the other hand, raising the legal driving age to 18 just isn’t going to fly in Montana. But I think Pete offered that up a bit tongue in cheek.

        • Craig Moore

          Pogo, here’s my frame of reference. I have had both my son and daughter seriously injured by impaired/inattentive young drivers in separate incidences. Her career hopes are now dashed by her continuing brain injury, not to mention the ugly scaring that won’t go away. My son was dropped from his collegiate soccer team because of his injuries which nag him today. They didn’t get do-overs to continue their lives as before falling victim to youthful immaturity.

          As to Pete’s 16 year old, he is not helped to grow-up by giving him a pass on accountability. Again, educate him on the law, make him write about, and sign that he understands the awesome responsibility and accountability he is undertaking by accepting a license. Given my family experience, that’s as far as my compassionate conservatism allows me to go.

          • JC

            Craig, I have similar experience with my daughter almost dying in a car crash at 15, and suffering the life-long consequences of it, not dissimilar to that of your kids.

            Yet it was I who gave her permission to be in the car. And I who bear the brunt of the guilt for what happened.

            I think that parental responsibility can go a long way to solving this problem without relying on overly oppressive government solutions.

            • Craig Moore

              JC, sorry about your daughter and her life-long challenges. My daughter was run over in a marked, full signage, flashing-light crosswalk in full daylight while she was halfway across a street. My son was rear-ended in his vehicle while waiting for the traffic light to turn green. In both cases, minimal insurance and no family assets to attach. What was particularly galling was neither driver ever apologized.

          • CharleyCarp

            Sorry to hear about both your families’ troubles.

            To me, the question is whether the enhanced penalty is really going to be a deterrent. Or are we just going to destroy 2 lives instead of 1.

            Obviously, the best answer is for no kids (or adults) to drive drunk. A no exceptions five year revocation seems to me to be a much better deterrent — more cost effective, and more likely to actually be fully enforced (let hardship cases apply for a pardon from the Governor) — than a sentence that may well not be served (and is thus probably too remote to deter a teen) and removes all possibility of the person making a positive contribution.

            • That sounds pretty reasonable. The moment when a person needs to make a decision about driving drunk, they are not capable of making a good one (hence why they shouldn’t drive). A ‘deterrent’, then, may be effective in encouraging people not to get into situations where they feel the need to drive drunk, but at the moment of truth it won’t be very effective. Loss of a license for every drunk driving offense seems a much more effective solution. I also think that having more severe penalties for being more drunk, i.e. above .16 or something, would be effective because those drunk drivers tend to be more dangerous and also are more apt to be problem drinkers who won’t be able to quit in the near future.

    • Craig Moore

      Pete, I went back and found the bill:

      It amends Section 41-5-206, MCA to add:

      “41-5-206. Filing in district court prior to formal proceedings in youth court. (1) The county attorney may, in the county attorney’s discretion and in accordance with the procedure provided in 46-11-201, file with the district court a motion for leave to file an information in the district court if…

      (xvii) vehicular homicide while under the influence as defined in 45-5-106.

      Couple of thoughts come to mind. (1) What’s wrong with leaving the decision to the county attorney with court approval? (2) For all the other crimes such juveniles can be similarly charged as an adult, which ones should be removed?

  3. mr benson

    Teenagers simply don’t have the judgment older people do. Men really don’t get it until 24.

    We don’t need to build more prisons for teenagers.

    Sorry for the sorrows that you have shared.

  4. I’ve suggested that driver’s licenses of minors caught drinking should be revoked until graduation or age 18.

    Maybe we should start with laws in this state that discourage minors from drinking? We aren’t going to change Montana’s drinking culture and its DUI culture merely by laws.

    And we can’t afford the jail space either.

    It’s going to take education and teaching old dogs new tricks is always hard – but teaching our kids is where it needs to begin.

    Ms. Taylor’s intentions, however noble, are I believe misguided. Writing a law to charge all minors is quite onerous. Shouldn’t that be the choice of the prosecutors who are aware of the facts specific to the situation just like they do in all other cases involving minors? Nothing stops prosecutors right now from charging minors as adults in any number of crimes – but they do so on a case-by-case basis.

    It’s a bit shocking to me that a so-called bona-fide conservative would want to write a law that micromanages and hand-ties the justice system. Isn’t this big government?

    Once again, I am confused by Montana’s so-called conservatives. This sounds like a nanny-state democrat bill to me.

    • Craig Moore

      Jh, I could get behind your suggestion that minors in possession of alcohol or illicit drugs relinquish all driving privileges until age 18. Still doesn’t address the appropriate punishment for those that kill, maim, or injury others when operating a motor vehicle while impaired.

      Accept the adult privilege, accept the responsibility and accountability.

      • Craig, stop with the “either or”. A law that revokes driving privilege until 18 needn’t exist in a vacuum, nor did jhwygirl argue that it should be the only consequence of death, mayhem or injury. But running one extreme to the other is likely not the answer, as many here have argued. If one only thinks in terms of “punishment”, your word, then that one has already accepted that we must put these monsters down as we do adults. That hardly seems fair.

        If I were argue with jhwygirl, it would be that the driving privilege would be revoked until 21.l

        • Craig Moore

          Rob, can’t make it any clearly than I already have. Exercise the adult driving privilege, accept adult responsibilities and accountability or don’t drive. Educate the neophytes on the consequences. Don’t let babies drive buggies without accepting those adult consequences. Simple really. Look again to what the county attys said:

          The county attorneys association said there are just a few such cases a year where a juvenile would face the tougher charge allowing a penalty of up to 30 years.

          Let’s maintain perspective here.

          • petetalbot

            Yes, Craig, let’s maintain perspective here. Scrap the juvenile justice system for kids who want to act like adults: driving and drinking and sex and drugs. Let’s fuck up their future, send them to the joint and give them a record.

        • If they can be shipped to Iraq to fight an illegal war, they can have a beer.

  5. Pogo Possum

    While I agree with most of your points jhwyGirl, I don’t believe Janna Taylor’s actions are representative of a Democratic nanny-state philosophy but rather a more conservative philosophy of personal responsibility. Cities banning the building of all new fast food restaurants (eg., South Los Angeles) to force people to eat healthier is a nanny-state run amok. Increasing the penalties for individuals who cause injury to others and break the law is forcing greater personal responsiblitiy. Like Pete, however, I feel 16 year olds are not adults and, despite Taylor’s best intentions, should not be forced as a group to be dealt adult penalties.

    There is definitly a culture of excessive drinking in Montana and it is being driven by people of all walks of life and by representatives of all political parties. There is one political advocay group in Missoula and one local legislator in particular that continues to think the primary way to attract and motivate the college crowd is to hand out free drinks for volunteer political work followed by extended pub crawls. Perhaps a little education for a few targeted legislators might be helpful.

    • Craig Moore

      Pogo, forward Montana! Yoooooo!

    • Fair enough regarding your perspective, although I’m not sure that I agree. But regarding your second paragraph…

      I have no doubt that the person to whom you are referring will think differently in the future when planning events. That being said, what does really make the events to which you refer any different that any standard party get together from either side of the aisle? Or is it OK when they’re 30 something. Or maybe 40? Or when the tickets cost $250 or $5,000 for a table? And you’re only driving back to a hotel room?

      And as for a “few targeted legislators” I’m sure you are wholly joking – especially given that it is the session and booze flows freely from lobbyists galore and their guest legislators.

      • Pogo Possum

        There is actually a lot more we agree upon on this subject than we disagree on so I don’t want to go too far down the path for both our sakes.

        I do see a major difference between offering alcohol at a party or event (whether it is free or if you have to pay for it one way or another) and linking how much you work to how many free drinks you get on a pub crawl to college students. The latter is a formula for trouble.

        As for: “I have no doubt that the person to whom you are referring will think differently in the future when planning events. ” I doubt it.

        I saw a video of the “legislator to be” in question being pressed pretty hard about the wisdom of the message he was sending to students with the promise of free drinks for each hour of volunteer work (I think someone said the line used in his email ad was “the more hours you work the more free drinks you get….so easy”) and the need to further bribe them with sponsored followup pub crawls.

        Not only did he say he did nothing wrong, he was a little upset that he was even being asked about it. He replied that since his group was trying to attract students and since college students like to drink a lot because they are college students, his group offering pub crawls and drinks in exchange for volunteer hours was the best way to get students involved.

        Later on, this person insinuated at the same meeting that HE was the victim because people were saying he and his organization’s actions might be contributing to the culture of excessive drinking.

        I am trying to avoid names here at this time because I think there are a lot of dumb things done by plenty of people on both sides of the aisle. The point is that certain actions send certain messages and I strongly believe the message being sent by this fellow does far more harm than good.

        I do hope for his benefit and the benefit of others that he “thinks differently” about this in the future.

        • if you have ever partied with democrats pogo i think you might agree that it would be far safer than the average college age person’s night on the town…. and it includes a ride home on a bus.

          i don’t want to create too many enemies here but they can be a tad dull……

          • Pogo Possum

            I have partied with Democrats, PBear and had some great times. Truth be told, I find Democrats much more interesting to party with than the majority of my Republican friends.

            But I do agree that as one gets older, in general, one tends to use a little more commonn sense. We also tend to go to bed a lot earlier so maybe that has more to do with it, too.

            • not much partying for this bear any more either pogo. interesting though- most of my brother’s friends are pretty conservative and i find that they are way more fun than my democrat friends.

              but then, me and the s.o. have a -shall we say, varied collection of friends- politics doesn’t really come into having fun with people and never comes up. good people are good people no matter what they believe.

        • I appreciate a whole lot about that comment, Pogo. A whole lot. And you are right – you and I do more likely agree more on this subject that we disagree.

          Let me ask – aside from the specifics of this situation – is it wrong to serve free alcohol to college students? Or is it wrong to serve it in reward for volunteering? Or both?

          For me, if they’re of legal age, free alcohol and politics isn’t any different if they’re in college or they’re 50 yr. old attorneys. Except when you’re at the party with the free alcohol and the 50 yr. old attorneys, they’re writing checks for $$$ in lieu of volunteering, whereas the 21 year olds are volunteering because they don’t have the cash to donate.

          Is it really different?

          (*Note – I certainly hope I’ve not offended any 50 year old attorneys)

          • Pogo Possum

            Don’t worry about the attorneys, jhwyGirl. They are used to being offended.

            You make air comments and ask fair questions. In general, there is nothing wrong with serving free alcohol to college age students, to 50 year olds or to legislators (assuming there is no quid pro quo expected). The issue is the audience, the situation and the degree.

            At the same time, I do believe there is a difference between college age students and fifty+ year olds.

            Please don’t take this the wrong way, but I am a bit older than some in this room and I have raised children through the trials and tribulations of their teenage and college years. Part of my career involved working with college students on both the academic and the administrative side. I have worked with enough college age students to know they are still developing their attitudes and philosophies toward life, their personal behaviors and their views of the world. That and their lack of life experiences make them more open/susceptible to influences. Corporations, and political parties, spend tremendous amounts of time and money to reach out to these impressionable young people for that very reason.

            In general, I don’t have a problem with that. Life is about confronting new ideas and making life decisions. However, I do take exception to the methods some use to influence teenagers and college age students especially when many people are raising concerns about the problems of a culture that encourages excessive drinking in this very goup.

            Plenty of studies point out that this culture of drinking to excess often begins in teen and college age students. This is why I take exception to a politician and his political organization who on one hand says there is a growing problem with a culture of drinking among teen and college age students then on the other hand uses the bribe of free drinks to college students (who don’t have much money) and pub crawls to get elected and push his/their political message.

            I would have the same objection to a group going down to the Food Bank or the Poverello Center and offering people free drinks for volunteer work. My stock broker friend even pointed out to me the other day that some of the regulatory agencies and many financial firms have stated it is unethical and a compliance violation to use the offer of free meals at public seminars to solicit senior citizens.

            Again, I don’t think we disagree too much on this issue.

  6. i agree with j-girl and rob makes an interesting suggestion to extend it to 21. maybe a tiered approach to give the judge and prosecution some leeway?

    but before we talk about revoking licenses we should first come up with a way to guarantee they won’t get behind the wheel. is there some electronic gadget that might enable us to do this? seems like taking away licenses doesn’t stop the worst of them from driving anyway.

  7. lizard19

    a minor (or anyone for that matter) who kills someone due to bad decisions with alcohol and driving already have a life sentence; they get to live with the reality they’re stupidity killed someone. if they have a conscience, that won’t be easy.

    when my friend was killed in college, run over by a young drunk driver as she was crossing the street, most of my friends wanted the kid to go to prison.

    i didn’t, because it wasn’t going to bring her back.

    there are other consequences besides jail time and a criminal record that would relegate a minor offender to the lower-tier criminal class.

    sending kids to prison is a terrible idea because we don’t send people to prison to rehabilitate them anymore (if we ever did). no, we send them away to punish them, and more often than not they don’t come out better people.

    this bill is another poorly conceived attempt to legislate a complex social problem. hey conservative legislators: it’s the economy, stupids!

    • That’s a good point, Liz. Jail should be a deterrent. But it only works as a deterrent if people expect it to be a consequence. No one expects to kill someone driving drunk. If they did, they would drive. But I fail to see how a 30 year sentence is going to be a more powerful deterrent than the thought of killing yourself or someone else. Since those very visceral potentialities don’t enter in to the mind of drunk driver, I fail to see how the more nebulous possibility of a conviction and prison sentence could. Loss of license, alcohol interlock devices, etc. could all be more effective.

      What I don’t understand is how it’s the economy, stupid. Drunk driving fatalities and the economy seem little correlated. Is there a correlation I’m missing?

      • lizard19

        i should have been more clear: i think this bill, like the bring your guns to the capitol bill, is a waste of time, and our state legislators should be focusing on the economy.

        • Ah okay. Makes perfect sense. Perhaps they need something better to run in their negative ads next election than “Democrats voted against cutting programs you’ve come to depend on”, and so they are looking for a “Democrats love drunk driving” sound bite.

        • CharleyCarp

          I would like to agree with this. But I also don’t think the legislature really has very much at all to do with the economy. Much bigger forces are in play.

          And most of the short term non-appropriative (very small potatoes) stimulative measures they can take — making eminent domain easier for power lines, making it easier to get oversized load permits to drive big trucks, giving away coal etc — I don’t think are that good for the long term.

          They seem to think austerity has some moral value beyond simply meeting the requirement to balance the budget. This is wrong, but if you ask these folks to focus on the economy, maybe all you get is trickle-down that doesn’t trickle. That is, I think cutting state employee pay/benefits so they can cut taxes would be result in a net economic loss.

          But people who agree with me about this are thin on the ground in Helena just now. Maybe endless iterations of the Derek Skees show, and silly attempts to get around the Supremacy and Commerce clauses, are the better use of these people’s time.

      • JC

        The economy? Go read this report PW.

        A few highlights:

        Total cost of alcohol abuse in MOntana: $642 million (includes costs of alcohol related vehicle fatalities in 2005)

        Cost of alcohol related crashes with injuries (not fatalities): $131 million (average annual cost 2004-2006).

        You might want to rethink your comment about the effect of alcohol abuse on the economy.

        • I was referring to causation between the economy in drunk driving. Lizard said not to legislate complex social issues and I thought the point was that the economy caused drunk driving. As I said, there seems to be no correlation between the economy and drunk driving. We already cleared up that Lizard meant the legislature ought to focus on the economy because their power over drunk driving is limited.
          I didn’t say there was no connection between alcohol abuse and economy – alcohol abuse can certainly affect the economy in a negative way (Russia), while moderate consumption can affect the economy in a positive way (continental Western Europe). Nonetheless, a strong correlation between the economy and drunk driving is difficult to establish.

  8. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly humans jump from one extreme to another. Moderation is out the window. For years drunk driving got the nudge-nudge, wink-wink treatment in this state, while elected representatives joined many common citizens in drunkenly endangering the rest of us on our highways and byways. After a tragedy moved the public to demand action, suddenly law enforcement and the judiciary wanted to prove they were handling the situation with random stops of all citizens, and by putting kids in jail without hope of redemption.

  9. Craig Moore

    Charles, “…putting kids in jail without hope of redemption.” What have you been reading???

    As I wrote above:

    Pete, I went back and found the bill:

    It amends Section 41-5-206, MCA to add:

    “41-5-206. Filing in district court prior to formal proceedings in youth court. (1) The county attorney may, in the county attorney’s discretion and in accordance with the procedure provided in 46-11-201, file with the district court a motion for leave to file an information in the district court if…

    (xvii) vehicular homicide while under the influence as defined in 45-5-106.

    Couple of thoughts come to mind. (1) What’s wrong with leaving the decision to the county attorney with court approval? (2) For all the other crimes such juveniles can be similarly charged as an adult, which ones should be removed?

    As the County Attorney’s have noted that support this bill, there is only about 5 cases per year that would receive such discretionary review. When a juvenile has a rap sheet of serious prior offenses, why do you object to the county attorney from considering the totality of the circumstances and petition the court to bring the more serious charge of vehicular homicide when there has been resulting deaths while driving under the influence? The charge is not automatic. The length of sentence is discretionary up to 30 years. Presently it’s up to 20 years for negligent homicide. If a juvenile is out in 10 years under either crime, how has the hope of redemption changed?

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