Making the charge fit the consequences
We reported last week that a 70-year-old Warwick man identified as Anthony Lombardi had been accused of a crime that cost the victim thousands of dollars in consequence of the act. Regardless of what the outcome is in that case, the situation made us think about how we classify some crimes as misdemeanors and other as felonies and saw some irony in the fact that the victim in this case, Stevie D’s Automotive, in addition to paying to repair the damage done to his inventory (in this case, about $7,500), also had his insurance rates hiked because actuaries determined that he was more likely to be hit by vandals simply because more than 30 incidents of vandalism were recorded on his property.
Insurance companies rarely take the time to find out if the crimes had been the product of one individual’s bad deeds or a series of violation by a number of individuals in a certain neighborhood. What they see is 30 acts of vandalism in one area within two years and the logical conclusion is that this particular policyholder lives in a high crime area and his rates have to be higher.
So now the $7,500 loss is added to a $14,000 increase in premiums for this policyholder. The police know there is only enough evidence to show that the perpetrator was responsible for five counts of vandalism, even if common sense dictates he has done many more. But, even with $7,500 virtually stolen, the perpetrator is still only charged with misdemeanor vandalism. If the perpetrator outright stole $7,500, he would be charged with a felony.
We are not vindictive most of the time, and we are certainly sensitive to the difference between a stupid kid who thinks that carving a gouge into someone’s car is cool and an adult who deliberately destroyed someone’s property to generate more business for himself. For the most part, kids get over their stupidity and begin to see the consequences of their dumb stunts and stop doing them. But when an adult causes as much damage with a misdemeanor as a felony, he forfeits the consideration that Dame Justice had in mind when she decided that some crimes are worse than others.
This is a part of the criminal code that should be re-evaluated. We should start by weighing the consequences of a crime and not the crime itself when we call some things felonies and other things misdemeanors. If we can stomach the idea of charging juveniles as adults when they do heinous things, we should be able to tolerate elevating some misdemeanors to felonies.