Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

Mine Safety ; Fitting Penalties

Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

Mine Safety ; Fitting Penalties

Article excerpt

DOES it strike you as wrong that lying to your stockholders is a felony but disobeying mine safety rules an act that can result in the death of workers is a misdemeanor? It should.

Felonies are more grievous offenses, often with serious harm or threat of harm, and tend to carry greater penalties. Penalties, which are set before a crime is even committed or before anyone is accused, deter violators. They also state the people's priorities.

And on the subject of worker safety, the people's priorities are not truly reflected.

The recent trial of former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship has brought up some important issues. Blankenship was convicted of conspiracy to violate mine safety rules at Massey's Upper Big Branch Mine, where 29 miners were killed in an explosion in 2010.

Criminal conspiracies are usually felonies, but because the jury found that Blankenship's goal was to violate safety standards, not to defraud federal safety regulators, the conviction is a misdemeanor. The sentence is up to one year in prison, instead of up to five years had the conviction been a felony.

Blankenship was acquitted of two other charges - securities fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years, and making false statements, with a sentence of up to five years.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Ruby wisely pointed out that society often cannot measure justice in jail time. "A critical part of doing justice, particularly in a case like this, is accountability. It is unprecedented, as far as we know, for any CEO of any large corporation to be held accountable, to face a jury of his peers and have that jury say he is guilty of violating workplace safety laws, violating mine safety laws. The fact that we've been able to obtain that kind of accountability today, obtain that kind of justice today, it is an enormous victory.

That is perfectly right, and Ruby and U. …

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