Did it matter that dead cyclist was homeless?

The sad case of Jerry Person, the apparently homeless man who was killed while riding his bicycle in Iowa in 2007, got me wondering. If he had not been homeless, if family and friends had been around to advocate for a stiff sentence for the hit-and-run driver who killed him, would that driver now be facing more than six months in jail?

I asked the Muscatine County prosecutor, Alan R. Ostergren.

He replied:

“No. I do not believe that had any impact. The sentence was dictated by what the state could have proven at trial, the defendant’s criminal history, and the circumstances of the commission of counts of conviction. Incidentally, the sentence of six months in the county jail is quite possibly longer that he would serve (in actual time before parole) than if he had been sentenced to prison for the felony charge of leaving the scene of a fatality accident.”

I’m not sure what to make of the “incidentally” part. Sounds like maybe we need to have a tougher penalty for leaving the scene of a fatal accident, not to mention our need to impose serious time when people hit and kill other people with their cars.

On the more general issue of the homeless and how they fare as victims in our justice system, I’ve sent out a few queries and hope to find out if anyone has studied that issue.

All due respect to Ostergren, I find it hard to believe Clark Anderson would have gotten just six months in jail if someone had to explain that to Jerry Person’s widow and children.

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