At the very end of last year, Shaun Goodman left a bar in Olympia, Washington in his Ferrari and led police on a high speed chase that approached 100 mph at times before crashing into two cars, jumping the curb and eventually careening into the side of a house. An unsuspecting passenger who had accepted a ride from Goodman was forced to leap from the moving car as it slowed down approaching an intersection.
Police arrested Goodman, whose blood alcohol content was twice the legal limit in Washington. He pleaded guilty to felony charges of eluding a police officer and driving under the influence, his seventh DUI conviction. And last week, Judge James Dixon handed down his sentence: no jail time and one year in a work release program.
Members of the community are crying foul, and argue that criminals who have money play by a different set of rules than others who commit similar crimes, drawing comparisons to several other recent cases of wealthy defendants getting off with minimal punishment. On Friday, protesters gathered in front of the Thurston County courthouse to demand answers.
“The judge has said at some point that he’s an important businessman in the community, and it wouldn’t be fair for him (and) his employees would suffer if he went to real jail,” said Sam Miller in an interview with local station KOMO News. “And my question is, what about the people that might suffer if he kills somebody?”
Ever since his arrest, Goodman has been the recipient of relatively lenient punishment from the court system. His bail was initially set at $75,000, which he paid. Though his request to leave the state for a trip to Las Vegas was denied, Judge Dixon did grant Goodman permission to fly to New York City for the Super Bowl just barely a month after his arrest. Goodman’s lawyer told the judge that his client had “what may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see his hometown team play in the Super Bowl.”
Goodman’s punishment is a far cry from Washington State’s sentencing guidelines for DUI offenders. According to the court system’s most recent DUI sentencing grid, anyone found with a BAC above .15 (Goodman’s was .16) and with two or three prior offenses (Goodman had six), the mandatory minimum jail time is 120 days. The minimum sentence may not be overturned “unless the court finds that imprisonment of this mandatory minimum sentence would impose a substantial risk to the offender’s physical or mental well-being.”
Regard for a defendant’s “mental well-being” is the argument that defense attorneys have used with alarming success in recent months to get their wealthy clients out of jail sentences or any other serious punishment. Last year, a teenager who killed four people and injured two others by driving drunk in Texas avoided jail after the lawyer hired by his wealthy parents claimed their son suffered from “affluenza,” an infliction suffered by the extremely wealthy that prevents them from accepting any responsibility for their own actions. And in March, an heir to chemical magnate Irénée du Pont who raped his own three-year-old daughter accepted a plea bargain that reduced his charges to fourth-degree rape and received probation, avoiding a mandatory jail sentence of 10 years. In her decision, the judge in that case explained that the defendant “will not fare well” in jail.