Joy Riding to Jail

August 04, 1994

It may appear to some that sentencing an 18-year-old to a year in prison for what has been described as taking "joy rides" in other people's cars is a bit harsh. But for Alex Pascal Martinez of Columbia, the sentence handed down in Howard Circuit Court this week was appropriate both as punishment and deterrent.

Mr. Martinez pleaded guilty to 11 charges for his role in the theft of 23 four-wheel-drive vehicles in December and January. He is one of several members of what has been called the Low-Riders Club, youths who have a love for expensive all-terrain vehicles, even those that are not their own. It was the group's habit to steal the cars and drive them to locations where they would play "crash-up derby" and "bumper car" before abandoning them. Four other defendants are awaiting trial.

Given the appalling nature of the offenses, Judge Raymond Kane Jr.'s sentence seems compassionate. Mr. Martinez could have served up to 19 years except that the judge suspended all but two one-year sentences, both to be served concurrently. Mr. Martinez will also have to pay restitution totaling $9,000 to his 11 victims and complete five years of supervised probation.

We hope the message sent to the community is that there are strong consequences to pay even for acts cloaked as harmless pranks. Parents particularly should use the Martinez ruling to caution their children about the dangers that can arise from these kinds of activities.

In a city as focused on children as Columbia, there is always the potential for indulgences to be allowed of the young.

But, as we have seen in several notable cases elsewhere in the country, the tendency to blame others or make light of bad situations has become alarming.

The solution may lie in what we teach children. Whether one believes that allegations of child abuse or wife battering should be considered mitigating circumstances in the commission of a crime, they should not be used as justification.

To Mr. Martinez's credit, he did plead guilty to his offenses. Whatever led him to his crimes, he chose not to build a defense around it. Perhaps he is on his way to learning how to take responsibility for his own actions. It's not a bad lesson for anyone to learn.

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