Archive for June, 2007

Equal time for Equal crimes?

Friday, June 15th, 2007

When we first heard of it, we found this story from Charlottesville, VA impossible to believe. Two parents hosted a birthday party for their 16th year-old son, who claimed he would obtain alcohol and get drunk somewhere else with his friends. So with good intentions, but ultimately bad judgment, Elisa Kelly and her then-husband George Robinson purchased alcohol for the teens at the party. Long story short, the police were called, found that 16 of the party-goers had measurable BACs (though none even approached .08–generally defined as the point of intoxication), and the Robinsons were charged with 16 counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. They were convicted in 2003 and sentenced to eight years each in prison. Eight years far exceeds the sentence for many heinous crimes in the US–notably, writer Lisa Provence points to the case of a UVA student who fatally stabbed a police officer 18 times. His sentence for killing another man? 31 months. In a related article, Provence brings up a case that had taken place in the Charlottesville area a few months before the Robinson’s party. A 16 year-old girl was killed when a car she was riding crashed. Both she and the driver were intoxicated. The sentences for the two teens charged with providing the alcohol that led to Brittany Bishop’s death? 10 days for the minor and 30 for the boy who was over 18.

On June 11, Elisa Kelly and George Robinson went to jail to serve 27 months each (their sentences were reduced upon appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court). In the intervening years between the 2002 party and this week, they divorced. Their son dropped out of high school, their house burned down, and Elisa Kelly faced bankruptcy.

In the face of a monstrous legal ordeal that destroyed the fabric of a family and has stunned many American parents, some of the most acute failings of Legal Age 21 emerge. John McCardell comments, “This very sad episode reminds us that current law disenfranchises parents from any role in attempting to create a safe environment…In this particular case, the parental impulse may have been misguided, but the more general question posed by this incident is whether the law ought properly to displace parental judgment entirely, because any parental role is effectively eliminated by the law until a child turns 21.” This case is extreme, but points to a policy that actively discourages parental responsibility while fostering a climate of illegality, recklessness, and excess amongst their children.

For more about this case:

The Times (London)

The Washington Post