Stupid is as stupid does

by Judge Steve Halsey 

Wright County 

District Court

Frequently during the movie “Forrest Gump” the namesake says, “Stupid is as stupid does.”  When it comes to criminal activity, there is no shortage of proof on YouTube and on cable TV shows that this phrase is true.  For example, we see burglars stuck in an airshaft or chimney.  We may find such antics funny and almost beyond belief, but such antics can lead to tragedy for others and imprisonment for the perpetrator.  Here are just a few cases, but the names have been left out to protect the innocent (and not so innocent) as they used to say on the 1960s TV show Dragnet.

In the past few months I have sentenced two young men, each of whom was driving in excess of 100 mph.  It reminded me of an incident a few years ago.  A couple of young men are enjoying a ride on a beautiful day on their motorcycles, which some call “bullet bikes.”  One or both were caught speeding by a sheriff’s deputy and a 15-mile chase ensued.  So these geniuses have elevated the incident from a petty misdemeanor traffic offense (speeding) to a felony (fleeing a peace officer in a motor vehicle) by trying to outrun the police officer at upwards of 100 mph on winding county roads.  Each eventually pleaded guilty and was sentenced to some jail for endangering the police officers and others on the roads.  They were lucky they didn’t kill themselves or someone else.  Stupid is as stupid does.

Frequently during the spring and summer, bored teenagers find that causing mindless vandalism gives them a thrill despite the harm to someone else’s property.  We see all kinds of vandalism charged in juvenile and adult court:  egging houses and cars, spray-painting garages and sidewalks, cutting down trees and shrubs, and even driving “donuts” (circles) in farm fields, yards and golf courses.  I recall a case where a juvenile was driving “donuts” in an alfalfa field and did not realize the damage he had caused until the farmer explained in court the resulting financial loss of a valuable crop over several seasons from this vandalism.  Stupid is as stupid does.

We live in an age of ever-present security cameras in virtually every retail establishment.  Yet frequently people leave large stores such as Walmart and Target with big screen TVs in a cart without paying for them and pass numerous security cameras on the way out of the store.  What are they thinking?  Perhaps the drugs or alcohol are doing the thinking for them.  When clerks in these stores attempt to steal cash or gift cards, they are inevitably caught, charged, and end up with a criminal record and a computer record shared by all of the big retailers.  They may never get a job in retail again.  Stupid is as stupid does.

Unfortunately, some of the alleged victims of property crimes perhaps share some of the blame.  I have seen criminal complaints where the defendant has written a dozen or more checks to a liquor store, gas station or bar, over the course of several weeks, and all of the checks “bounced” for insufficient funds in the bank.  I can’t understand why the store or bar continued to accept the defendant’s checks even though they had been “bouncing” for weeks.  Law enforcement has better things to do than act as the collection agency for a business acting irresponsibly under these circumstances.

Human behavior continues to keep a steady stream of defendants traveling through the criminal justice system, taxing the already overstretched office of public defenders.  There has been discussion in the past at the Legislature about decriminalizing some traffic offenses, such as driving after suspension and driving a vehicle without insurance, making them petty offenses with no possibility of jail, thereby removing them from the caseload of the public defenders.  However, to date there have been no significant changes to the penalties for these offenses.

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