White Man, White Justice?
To an outsider, it seems almost unbelievable. A man with 3 prior DUIs kills two pedestrians while blacked-out and faces 51 months for two crimes that could each carry a maximum sentence of 20 years, had they happened 400 yards south, across the tribal boundary.
To American Indians, this is just the latest in a series of injustices visited unceasingly upon them by a system of laws that proports equality while bearing its teeth of systemic racism.
On August 27th, 2008, Robert Whirlwind Horse, 23 of Manderson and Calonnie Randall, 26 of Wanblee were struck by Timothy Hotz’s vehicle with such force that their bodies were literally thrown straight out of their shoes. After the accident, Hotz, 61, continued driving south towards his home in Rushville, Nebraska. In the morning, not having remembered what had occurred the night before, but only that something dreadful had happened, he found Whirlwind Horse and Randall’s hair on his bumper and turned himself in to authorities. Only one year prior, Hotz was found guilty of his third DUI conviction. The conviction carried the possibility for Hotz of up to 2 years of prison, 18-36 months of alcohol treatment as well as a mandatory suspension of his driver’s license for at least one year. For some reason, Bennett County officials pled Hoyt’s third DUI down to a misdemeanor and saw no reason for more strict discipline than a one day course on substance abuse and a token 30 day suspension of his license. At the time of the accident, Hoyt had served 5 days in prison and had his license suspended for a total of 60 days.
In the past, Hoyt had run a store in Whiteclay for many years where he refused to sell liquor to Natives, but in 2001 he sold the business and afterward became more erratic in his actions. In 2004 he was convicted for Driving Under the Influence for the second time, after he swerved into oncoming traffic at 65 MPH and forced motorists in the oncoming direction onto the shoulder.
Again, it seems almost too difficult to believe. Had Hotz continued on his journey and killed two individuals due south of Whiteclay, Nebraska instead of due north, he would have faced the charge of ‘Vehicular Homicide’, subject to a minimum of 1 year and a maximum of 20 years in prison. However ‘Vehicular Manslaughter’ does not exist as a statute in Federal Court, where matters of Indian Nations are decided. There, the driving charge leveled against a person for the same crime is ‘Involuntary Manslaughter’ and is subject to a maximum sentence of 8 years in Federal prison.
So, when a plea for 51 months was entered by Timothy Hotz in Federal Court and accepted, Native people again felt the bitter sting of injustice. Though Hotz has said that he has given his life over to God, Native people have to wonder, how many dead 20 year olds must be struck for their lives to be given equal treatment under the law? How many warning signs are white people allowed to exhibit that natives, who are nearly 3 times as likely to be sent to South Dakota state prison, are not? We all wish compassion upon Mr. Hotz, however we must also be honest about what the current value of our legal convictions truly are when we allow a fellow human being who needs help to suffer, as Mr Hotz had suffered, publicly and privately, for so many years. And we must be demand inequities be addressed toward those who would seek to pronounce judgment on one group of people, without first assessing the moral need for equal justice toward themselves.