Indianapolis Star Editorial

Hit-and-run Case Reveals System's Flaws

November 25, 2005
Our position: Marion County leaders must act aggressively to fix a poorly functioning criminal justice system.

How could a person charged with leaving the scene of an accident and criminal recklessness after hitting two pedestrians be released without bail?

Blame it, in part, on crowding at the Marion County Jail, the same situation that has led to the early release of thousands of suspected criminals, who are allowed to return to their lawlessness almost with pause.

But Will E. Dunlap's case is especially frustrating. He had been cited 24 times in five years for traffic violations. He had 92 points on his driver's license. His license had been suspended, and he had been convicted of driving with a suspended license.

All of that was before Saturday. On that night, police say, Dunlap, his license still suspended, drove a car that hit 14-year-old Devon Mooney and 25-year-old James Maxwell. Dunlap is accused of driving away from the scene of the accident, although he later turned himself in to police.

Devon died Sunday. After Dunlap had been released.

Judge William Young, who handled the case, contended that the preliminary charges weren't serious enough to require setting a bond. None of Dunlap's previous citations by themselves appeared all that serious. And, as the judge points out, crowding at the jail discourages courts from setting high bonds.

But something is terribly wrong in the system when a person with Dunlap's overall record is let go on his own recognizance after an arrest for a serious crime, especially when so many accused criminals in Marion County never bother to show up in court once they are released without bond.

Dunlap clearly displayed contempt for the criminal justice system long before Saturday night's tragedy. The ominous pattern of his behavior deserved to be taken seriously.

If drivers can shrug off one violation after another with little consequence, their recklessness is likely to escalate, sometimes with deadly results.

Marion County leaders need to work aggressively to fix a poorly functioning criminal justice system. More jail beds, a more efficient court system and more officers of the court are needed to stop a revolving door that is pushing dangerous criminals back on the streets soon after they are arrested.