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Guilty Pilots
Are Sentenced,
Part II

Part I

Natalia J. Garland

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All behavior has consequences. It is believed that alcoholics must experience negative consequences from their drinking in order to make positive behavioral changes. However, alcoholics have enablers who cushion them from experiencing direct negative consequences. A typical example of an enabler is the wife who telephones her husband's boss and says he has to take the day off due to illness when, in reality, he has a hangover. The legal system has also often served as an enabler. In the past, the police did not arrest drunken drivers. There was no such thing as a D.U.I. There were no negative legal consequences.

While mental health workers became cognizant of the diagnostic and treatment ramifications of drinking and driving, the courts seemed to lag behind in figuring out how to sentence people who committed crimes under the influence. Based on my own clinical work, judges seemed slower in gaining knowledge about the disease concept of alcoholism. Such specialized knowledge was, of course, outside their area of legal expertise. Nowadays, however, judges and probation officers work more closely with mental health providers on a number of problems, especially in cases involving addiction or domestic violence.

Regarding addictions, there is a crossroads of disease and criminality. Once a person commits a crime under the influence of alcohol, he crosses over from alcoholic to criminal offender. The two pilots, Cloyd and Hughes, attempted to operate an airplane under the influence of alcohol and they were arrested. The arresting police officers were obviously well trained. The prosecuting attorneys were aware of the behavioral significance of B.A.C. levels. The jury apparently knew, or learned during the court proceedings, that consumption of alcohol distorts thoughts and actions. Most of all, the judge appeared to be no stranger to alcohol-induced crimes.

The prosecutors argued that the pilots were guilty even though the airplane never took off, and that the passengers were victims. Is this accurate? Let's compare drinking and flying to drinking and driving. If you are inside a parked car with the keys in the ignition and you are intoxicated, you can be arrested for D.U.I. This parallels with the pilots ordering their airplane to be towed out to the runway. The intent was to take off. A few minutes later and they would have been in the air, flying from Miami to Phoenix, and anything could have happened.

It follows that the passengers were victims. Beyond the inconvenience of a delayed flight, the two pilots had transported the 124 passengers through the crossroads of disease and criminality. The pilots, legally intoxicated and breaking the rules of the F.A.A., irresponsibly risked the lives of the passengers. That risk alone was enough to result in a fear of flying among some passengers. (It should be noted that the F.A.A. reports that in 2002 only nine airline employees tested positive out of the 10,419 who underwent random alcohol tests.)

Cloyd and Hughes were sentenced to five years and two years in the state prison, respectively. Was this a direct negative consequence? Remember, they had been arrested in July, 2002. During the meantime, Hughes got a real estate license, and Cloyd was selling cars to make a living. Life went on. Aside from whether their sentences were fair, it is questionable if imprisonment will be felt as a direct consequence of alcohol abuse due to the passing of time.

Was the judge fair in sentencing the pilots to prison? Unless the prison offers a treatment program and A.A. meetings, it is doubtful that their time in prison will benefit them in terms of addressing their alcoholism. Should the pilots be punished for being alcoholic? After all, they have a disease. This is a difficult question, the answer to which has yet to be perfected.

As the judge said, Cloyd had already had chances. He had a history of alcohol problems back to 1986 (a D.U.I.). He had taken anger management classes in 1998, which means he was familiar with the mental health system and he knew how to seek help if he wanted it. Perhaps five years in prison is a logical consequence of his continued drinking, his disregard for rules and laws, and his endangerment of human life. How much should society tolerate?

Hughes' sentence was more comprehensive in that A.A. attendance was a post-prison requirement. It seems that Hughes had no prior criminal record. Hughes has been sent a strong message regarding the seriousness of his crime and his condition, and he has also been afforded an opportunity to get help and to make positive behavioral changes. Hughes can still reclaim his life and restore his family.

When people abuse alcohol, they lose control of their lives. It then falls upon the courts to take control in order to protect society from harm. Many alcoholics probably do not belong in the prison population of real criminals who steal, assault, and murder. Generally, alcoholics do not have criminal personalities. Alcoholics break the law when their judgment has been impaired from alcohol consumption. That brings us back to: they have lost control of their lives.

The court system and the mental health system are imperfect. Much progress has been made since the days when there was no such thing as a D.U.I., no such thing as mandated treatment, and no awareness of enablers or enabling systems. Cloyd and Hughes have not been enabled. That much was accomplished. It is now up to them to continue their insanity or to admit they are alcoholics and get help. (Written 08/15/05: bibliography available.)

Until we meet again..............stay sane.

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Copyright 2005 Natalia J. Garland