Ryan LeVin's hit-and-run sentence is beyond outrageous
Cushy house arrest is an insult to justice
Ryan LeVin, left, looks at his attorney, David Bogenschutz, as he pleads guilty to the 2009 fatal hit-and-run of two British businessmen. (Carline Jean, Sun Sentinel
Hit-and-run killer Ryan LeVin won't be allowed to lounge around the pool at his parents' oceanfront Fort Lauderdale condo, but he will be able to hit the exercise room regularly during his two-year house arrest.
He's no longer allowed to drive, but he will be able to go grocery shopping.
LeVin is subject to drug and alcohol testing, which means he won't be able to enjoy a nice cabernet with his filet mignon for dinner.
s his attorney David Bogenschutz put it Monday, when I asked if LeVin was free to pick up a case of beer on his weekly supermarket sojourns, "He can buy it, but he can't drink it."
What is the world coming to, when a privileged 36-year-old who belatedly takes responsibility for plowing into two pedestrians in his $120,000 Porsche has to spend two whole years sober and cooped up in luxury digs. That is, when he isn't out exercising, shopping, going to church, or visiting his doctors, therapists and lawyers.
Having LeVin behind bars for 5-10 years, when he could have gotten 20-30 years for two counts of vehicular homicide and fleeing an accident scene, seems reasonable. Having him behind a deadbolt with a monitoring bracelet on his ankle and so much temptation nearby does not.
LeVin's featherweight sentence of house arrest and 10 years of probation, handed down by Broward Circuit Judge Barbara McCarthy last week, was called "the most outrageous thing I've seen in 33 years at the courthouse" by Broward Public Defender Howard Finkelstein.
"It undermines confidence in the system and makes us all look bad," Finkelstein said Monday.
I have to agree. Outcomes like this do little to dispel the notion that there are two justice systems in this country, one for the well-off and another for the rest of us.
Bogenschutz and prosecutor Stefanie Newman explained that Judge McCarthy had the legal discretion to give such a light sentence, known as a downward departure, especially because the victims' families didn't object.
The widows of British businessmen Craig Elford and Kenneth Watkinson were eager to go along, since it meant they'd receive hefty checks to settle civil suits against LeVin, whose family made a fortune in the jewelry business.
Bogenschutz said the prosecution and victims were anxious for resolution because "the case was starting to fall apart at the edges." If it went to trial, there might have been plenty of reasonable doubt and an acquittal.
But that doesn't mean McCarthy had to be so lenient once LeVin copped a plea, even if it would have scuttled the civil settlement. A criminal judge has a duty to be fair to society as a whole, not to facilitate financial security for victims.
The lesson is a disturbing one, and it reminds me of the DUI manslaughter case involving NFL player Donte Stallworth a few years ago in Miami-Dade. Stallworth paid a hefty settlement to his victim's family, then pleaded guilty in criminal court. With the blessing of his victim's family, Stallworth got a 30-day jail sentence, far less than the usual four-year minimum.
If LeVin and Stallworth didn't have money, might their victims' families have had harder feelings and pressed for tougher sentences?
And because a victim family's wishes is given considerable weight by prosecutors and judges, that means the wealthy have a better chance of buying their way to sympathy and leniency than the non-wealthy.
"It's the exact antithesis of what our criminal justice should be," said Finkelstein.
Bogenschutz said a system that favors restitution over incarceration has been approved by the Legislature and upheld by the Florida courts.
So we've got the best justice system that money can buy.
Now that LeVin has been ordered to wear an ankle-monitoring device, something that slipped McCarthy's mind at his sentencing last week, I trust that he won't bend the rules of his punishment.
After all, he seems like such a responsible young man.
Like the time LeVin ran over a Chicago policeman and then led authorities on a wild expressway chase, a few years before those two British businessmen had the temerity to get in the way of his speeding Porsche along A1A at 2:30 a.m.
Or the way he behaved immediately after the incident, calling up a friend to ditch his car, then lying and obfuscating to investigators for a long time afterward.
Or the way he stood up and took the rap for his actions last week. LeVin never bothered saying sorry, but he did sign the two hefty checks.
"All his actions should have earned him greater punishment, not lesser punishment … What was Judge McCarthy thinking?" Finkelstein said.
I wish I could tell you, but I didn't hear back from the judge after leaving a message on Monday. Not that judicial protocol would allow her to comment on the case. As long as LeVin adheres to his conditions, the sentence can't be revisited.
Perhaps the best chance at justice will come from Illinois, where LeVin might have to serve some time behind bars for violating the terms of his parole from his 2006 case. But it won't be much, perhaps six months or less.
"There is no recourse," Finkelstein said, "other than to make sure the judge isn't re-elected."
McCarthy was elected to a six-year term in 2010. Her deputy campaign treasurer? David Bogenschutz
Mayo column: Hit-and-run killer LeVin sentence beyond outrageous - South Florida Sun-Sentinel.com