A recent drunk driving trial here in Los Angeles illustrates how important perspective is when determining whether or not justice is served by lengthy incarceration.

An editor of music for movies and TV shows was sentenced late last week to a year in jail for a DUI accident that left a 72-year-old Culver City man dead.

The accident happened in late October 2009 on the west side of L.A. when the editor struck the driver’s side of the victim’s vehicle, killing the Ethiopian immigrant instantly.

Friends and family members of the victim crowded the courtroom to plead for punishment in the death of someone they described as a hardworking, loving family man. The man’s children testified bitterly about their loss and said the perpetrator should spend more than “a few months in jail” for causing the death.

While certainly a tragedy for the family, the judge rightly considered other important facts in sentencing. Specifically, the defendant had no prior criminal record, and the victim was apparently in the process of making an illegal U-turn at the time of the collision.

As part of the plea agreement between the DUI offender and prosecutors, the editor will get five years of probation and be required to attend classes on alcohol abuse. However, if he completes the probation without incident, his felony can someday be reduced to a misdemeanor.

The judge acknowledged the pain of the family but also made clear that the offender isn’t walking away without punishment. Los Angeles DUI defense attorneys note that the sentence could have been more severe. For example, conviction of “gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated” (as described in California Penal Code Section 191.5) can carry a sentence of up to 10 years in state prison.

While it would be unreasonable to expect the family in this case to be satisfied, clearly the judge believed a one-year jail sentence followed by lengthy probation serves the interests justice in this tragic first-offense DUI.

Resource: Sacramento Bee, “Man gets 1 year in 2009 fatal DUI accident,” March 6, 2011