SHOULD celebrity status be a factor in sentencing someone for manslaughter committed while driving drunk? Celebrity or not, should a person so convicted be sentenced to serve time in jail? Phill Lewis -- actor, local figure, member of a well-known family, convicted of manslaughter for killing a woman while driving drunk 13 months ago -- has been sentenced to a year in jail. In cases such as this, opinions on the severity of the sentence can differ sharply. But for too many years, drunk driving -- considering how many lives it destroys -- has tended to be taken too lightly in the United States. Judges and prosecutors have been all too tolerant, perhaps because it is a vice widely shared among people of all backgrounds.
Jail time is no cure. But it can constitute a statement that society is recognizing the seriousness of drunk driving as the most frequently committed violent crime in the country. And however repentant an offender may be, celebrity status alone should not accord that offender exceptional treatment when it comes to sentencing. It's true that a well-known entertainment figure can be most effective performing community service, campaigning against alcohol abuse or warning about the consequences -- and personal pain -- for those who become killers on the road. But this, too, can be part of a sentence, as it is in the case of Mr. Lewis.
Montgomery County Circuit Judge William C. Miller noted that the victim, 21-year-old Isabel Duarte, who had been working as a nanny from Portugal, was "not just a statistic." The judge said that "due to the serious nature of the offense, I feel some incarceration is appropriate." He also sentenced Mr. Lewis to two years of probation on the manslaughter conviction and ordered him to perform 350 hours of community service. He gave Mr. Lewis another year in jail on the drunken driving charge, to be served concurrently.
Officials say this means serving a total of 270 days of confinement: 90 days in the county jail, then 90 days in the county's halfway house program and another 90 under home detention. Mr. Lewis said, "I understand the conviction," and his lawyer said there was no plan to appeal the sentence. An uncle of Isabel Duarte commented, "There are no winners in this type of situation." But jail time is appropriate, said Augusto Rodrigues, "because you have to give a message to people out there who are still drinking and driving. It's not out of hate."