As you may be aware, Halliburton recently plead guilty to charges of destroying evidence pertaining to the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. A deeply-repentant Halliburton agreed to pay the largest fine the law allows. Of course, the law only allows a maximum fine of $200,000, but it would be cynical to question Halliburton’s sincerity, right?
Some people might think that $200,000 is a ridiculous sum for destroying evidence relating to the investigation of an event that killed 11 people, marred the Gulf of Mexico for both fishing and tourism, and cost local governments billions of dollars. I get that. One suspects that the evidence that was destroying might have lead to fruitful prosecutions, but we’ll never know, will we?
So let’s not dwell on what might have been. Instead, let’s see what good we can take from this. This settlement could set an interesting precedent. The punishment for destroying evidence for a crime that killed 11 people is $200,000. That’s, what, about $18,000 per death? $18,000 per death. I bet we can find a use for that number.
If a human life is worth $18,000, then stealing $18,000 is equivalent to taking a life, right? So, now we have something to use to go after white collar criminals like bankers and such, right? For every $18,000 they steal, that’s a count of…let’s be generous and call it “manslaughter.” “Murder” seems harsh. If you embezzle $1,000,000, that’s 55 counts of “manslaughter.”
Or, let’s flip it around: If the maximum penalty for manslaughter is $18,000, then the maximum prison sentence should be, I don’t know, the amount of time it would take to earn $18,000 at minimum wage? The national minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, so we’re looking at about 15 months. Anything more would be cruel and unusual, right?
I know I’ve beaten this horse to death in the past, but it just seems to make sense. I know our justice system doesn’t play favorites and treat different types of crime, albeit of equivalent degree, differently. I’m just trying to tweak that balance a little bit. I mean, c’mon, I’m not that cynical, right?