A couple blocks away from my house there was a terrible car crash two days ago. I would say 'accident' instead of 'crash' but that would be terribly inaccurate; the driver was a 19 year old who was drunk and driving at immense speed when the crash occurred. He hit a pole so hard his car was ripped into several large pieces and large chunks of the vehicle were scattered all over the area. Despite that he walked away with only minor injuries; his passenger was not so lucky and was instantly killed. He is facing a number of extremely serious charges and will likely spend a very large portion of the next decade of his life in prison; it might even be a lot longer than that. Justice? I don't know.
Obviously this is a tragedy and society's paramount goal needs to be preventing these sorts of disasters from occurring but I wonder if long prison sentences actually accomplish anything in this type of case. We need to establish that there are terrible punishments for crimes but in many cases once the crime is committed there isn't much to be gained by actually going through with the punishment. In a case like this it is likely that the perpetrator in question is wracked with remorse and he will almost certainly face great difficulty going forward. Everyone he knows will be well aware that he caused someone else to die because he made terrible and foolish decisions and moreover he will be aware of that failing all the time. There is no escaping this sort of thing.
It is the sort of dilemma you often see in games. It is important to establish to other players that you cannot be pushed around and that you will react in a punitive, irrational way to being attacked and yet it is rarely a good idea to do that when the situation arises. Society needs to establish tremendous punishments as deterrents (though in many or most cases the deterrent is irrelevant to the decision to commit the crime) but following through has tremendous costs for society as a whole and for the individual in particular. There are people who are terrible and unrepentant enough that they must be imprisoned for long periods or forever but they are a minority of those in prison I suspect. In most cases it is better to try to keep people integrated into society rather lock them up and throw away the key.
We should be grateful for a system that allows judges leeway in this sort of case. Sometimes it is clear that a defendant really did make a stupid decision with no ill intent and is unlikely to reoffend; in most cases a light sentence will be by far the greater good. I would guess that this is the case here from the little we know from the news article but obviously that is hardly conclusive. We also need judges to be able to step in and deliver punitive judgements when necessary as sometimes the accused is really quite beyond redemption. I wonder what it would be like to make those sorts of decisions on a daily basis. It would be really hard, I think.