So why did Judge Peter Cahill give Michael Basner a minimum sentence? And why do we keep putting these painful, complicated, confusing cases on the front page?
Basner back in September of 2012 got drunk, got in a fight with his girlfriend, then fled when police arrived. He rushed through a stop sign, hit speeds of 70 miles an hour, then finally screeched to a halt, staggered out of the car and fell down drunk as police closed in with weapons drawn.
So his girlfriend quite reasonably took out an order of protection. Three weeks later, he showed up on her doorstep — with his suspended license and outstanding warrants, completely ignoring the order of protection. She called police, who arrested him on the spot.
Last week, he went to domestic violence classes, apologized in court and reconciled with his girlfriend.
Prosecutors sought a nine-month jail sentence, plus probation. Judge Cahill settled on the mandatory minimum four-month sentence, plus probation. Cahill gave weight to Basner’s expressed remorse and completion of the domestic violence classes as well as his girlfriend’s pleas on his behalf.
Judge Cahill and Basner then had an odd little debate about whether Basner has a “drinking problem.” Basner admitted he drank too much on that one occasion, but said he doesn’t really have a problem. Cahill, reasonably enough, said it sure sounds like a problem to him.
So: Nine months or four months? Tough call. No doubt, we rely far too heavily on prison to change people. The real question remains whether he can change. Can he face up to his drinking problem? Can he treat women with respect? Can he face up to his mistakes? Tough questions every one.
So, why put it on the front page? Because we want to live in a community where no one will for a moment wonder whether its OK to threaten women or children — drunk or sober. Because we want to live in a community with zero tolerance for domestic violence — and any variety of excuse for such violence. Because we know that this most common and damaging of violent crimes subsists on silence and redoubles in the dark.
So we hope Mr. Basner well. It’s true: Everyone makes mistakes — some of them terrible. But when we put it on the front page, we hope it will give the victims the courage to take action — and the perpetrators the insight to make a make a change — as Mr. Basner said he’s going to do.
Of course, we’d feel more confident if he did a little more research into the phrase “drinking problem.”