Soft on crime – because of the money

In the news recently was a stunning announcement by Justin Kollar, who is the Kauai County prosecutor. State law says that for folks driving without a license or driving without insurance, heavier fines and more jail time apply to repeat offenders. He said that he has decided to prosecute all cases under his watch as first-time-offender cases, no matter how many prior convictions the defendant may have or how quickly those priors were accumulated.

Why? He said in a recent interview that the repeat-offender penalties do nothing to make the roads safer, add more people to crowded jails and trap the working poor in a cycle they can’t get out of. They can’t pay the fine and must work to earn the money to pay it. They need to drive to get to work, they get pulled over, and then they owe more money they can’t pay.

Prosecutors traditionally have had wide discretion in deciding what kind of criminal charges to bring against a person, or whether to bring charges at all. For instance, a prosecutor might not charge motor-vehicle drivers going 60 mph in a 55-mph zone, but may go to court when the driver has gone over 70 mph.

Consider this actual example: a Delaware grandmother sent her granddaughter to her third-grade class with a birthday cake (hers) and a knife so it could be shared. The teacher used the knife to cut the cake but had to report the girl for bringing a weapon to school. The school district, which had a zero-tolerance policy on weapons, felt it had no choice but to follow that policy to the letter and expel the girl for a year.

So, yes, it is important that there be prosecutorial discretion. Prosecutors need it to refrain from charging cases that aren’t supported by the evidence, or to refrain from punishing people who, although violating the literal terms of the law, really haven’t done anything that the law was designed to prevent.

At the same time, discretion can mask more insidious behavior, such as racial discrimination (prosecuting all speeders if they are black, for example, while exercising more restraint on others), or graft (a defendant can skate, for example, if he knows the right people to pay off).

This case seems to be about another issue: infringement upon the kuleana of other institutions. Kollar is an elected Kauai County official. The laws of which he is complaining are state laws. They were put into place by our state legislators and governor, who had the interests of the entire state at heart when they enacted the enhanced penalties for repeat offenders.

If he has a problem with how these laws are applied to the working poor, shouldn’t he go to the Legislature and suggest appropriate amendments? Apparently, he prefers to take the matter into his own hands. Maybe he thinks that this grandstanding will help him get re-elected.

But what about the plight of the working poor? The Hawaii American Civil Liberties Union is quoted as saying that driving without a license or insurance is only about inability to afford paying premium payments or fines, which doesn’t make you more dangerous on the road. I respectfully disagree.

The ability to drive a car is a privilege, not a right. Taking away the privilege is a possible consequence of doing something unlawful. Is it fair? The folks who get whacked for driving without a license or insurance the second or third time intentionally got behind the wheel without appreciating the responsibility.

Is it fair to the other drivers who must bear more costs of car-related injuries, deaths and property damage because these folks won’t? I, for one, would rather not be on the road with people who reject the responsibility that comes with a motor vehicle.


Tom Yamachika is president of the Tax Foundation of Hawaii.

  1. commonsense August 11, 2019 9:41 am Reply

    I agree. Laws are there for a reason and if an individual chooses to ignore those rules, then they should pay the consequences. We need a prosecutor that with stand up and uphold the laws that are in place. Every day I drive to and from work, I see a minimum of a dozen vehicle infractions from expired safety checks to illegally (and completely unsafe) tinted windows. I’ve seen the same vehicles for over a year meaning that some of these owners get their vehicle safety checked even though their vehicle is illegal.

  2. Dt August 12, 2019 6:27 pm Reply

    This is Kollar’s smallest mister since being elected. Bigger ones include failure to prosecute in a timely fashion leading to dropped cases and awful plea deal bargaining. A real interesting set of data would be on the probability of repeat offenders given the relaxed stance by the courts. Sure it saves money, but creates this revolving door of crime.

  3. Sheeples August 12, 2019 9:25 pm Reply

    Kollar is in there because he lets everyone off because of cash money and the big dogs taking all the proceeds off of the street sales. Tar heron and meth. It’s being sold in the open all over. Let’s not act so innocent. Really???? Wake up peeps…..

  4. Rev Dr. Malama August 13, 2019 6:33 pm Reply

    Tom, I am disappointed that you seem to miss the undertow of the legal system in Hawai’i imploding in on itself….
    Perhaps you missed the Notices of Cease and Desist put forth by supporters of the Hawai’ian Kingdom…. to all public officials in office!
    Please take an educated examination of the facts here before sentencing protected persons for crimes they have not committed! Mahalo

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