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ROAD HOMICIDE: A FOOD FOR THOUGHT FROM THE JUDICIAL CHRONICLE

Marzia Valitutti

08/01/2021

A recent case of judicial chronicle has very much shaken the public opinion: the Judge for Preliminary Investigations of the Court of Rome has sentenced to 8 years of imprisonment Pietro Genovese, considered in first instance guilty of having fatally run over two teenagers of just fifteen years, Camilla Romagnoli and Gaia Von Freymann, on Corso Francia in Rome.

The case of "road homicide" has thus once again returned to the attention of technicians and ordinary people. And in fact one of the most debated issues, and that most worry the legislator, is the safety of the roads: too often we are led to trivialize the importance of the rules in the field of safe driving, ignoring what are the provisions of the law.

It is therefore a priority to make citizens aware of the risks, so as to reduce the number of victims of road accidents. It is also essential that everyone is aware of the responsibility involved in driving and of how essential it is to be aware of the rules of the road code.

ISTAT data provide a worrying picture, certainly better than in the past but definitely alarming. In 2019, there were 172.183 accidents in Italy with injuries to people, a slight decrease compared to 2018 (-0.2%), with 3.173 victims and 241.384 injured (-0.6%). The number of deaths decreases for two consecutive years, after the sharp increase it had recorded in 2017, perhaps also thanks to the severity shown by the legislature, which has begun to produce con-creative effects.

The criminal case, which punishes those who violate the rules of the Highway Code causing death by driving a vehicle, was initially contained in art. 589 of the Italian Criminal Code (also called c.p.), which provided for the crime of manslaughter committed, precisely, as a result of violations of the rules of the Highway Code. Subsequently, Law no. 41 of March 23, 2016, repealed this incriminating provision, replacing it with the new art. 589 bis c.p., headed "road homicide".

The legislator had the very specific objective of discouraging rash and reckless behaviour and therefore, reduce the statistics of accidents: to pursue this end, in addition to the basic legislation, has provided for aggravating circumstances if the death is caused by a drunk driver, under the influence of drugs or proceeding at a speed above the permitted one.

Article 589 bis, paragraph 1, of the Italian Criminal Code provides first of all for a basic hypothesis of road homicide, which punishes with imprisonment from 2 to 7 years anyone who causes the lethal event following any type of violation of road traffic regulations.

There are further hypotheses, considered by the legislator to be more serious because they are connected to specific violations of the Highway Code, punished with increasing severity.

In fact, a sentence of imprisonment from 5 to 10 years is foreseen for the hypothesis as per paragraph 4 of the article in question, which incriminates anyone who, by driving a motor vehicle, in a state of so-called intermediate drunkenness (for example, with a blood alcohol level from 0,81 to 1,5 g/l pursuant to art. 186 paragraph 2 letter b) of the Highway Code), causes the death of a person through negligence.

The same punishment, according to paragraph 5, is also applied in cases where the violation of road rules has as its object the exceeding of the speed limits allowed depending on the type of road travelled, the failure to respect the red light or the direction of travel of the lane travelled, as well as the performance of dangerous overtaking maneuvers near crosswalks. The punishment may be increased in such cases, in accordance with paragraph 6, if the guilty driver does not have a valid driver's license or if the vehicle is not insured.

There is also a third and more serious case, punished with imprisonment from 8 to 12 years, foreseen by paragraph 2 of art. 589 bis of the Italian Penal Code, which concerns road death caused by the driver of a motor vehicle in a state of serious drunkenness (that is, with a blood alcohol level higher than 1.5 g/l, pursuant to art. 186, paragraph 2, letter c) of the Italian Penal Code). paragraph 2 letter. c) of the Highway Code) or in a state of psycho-physical alteration resulting from the assumption of drugs or psychotropic substances (pursuant to art.187 of the Highway Code).

In this legal framework, almost 5 years after the introduction of the new case, the news of the last days, concerning the above mentioned sentence of the G.I.P. of Rome against Pietro Genovese, takes on a particular relevance.

There is no doubt that the ruling in question will have repercussions of no small importance within the political and social debate: to understand the scope is appropriate to take a short step back and tell what happened that tragic night.

December 21, 2019, was a Roman evening like many others, the rain was pouring down and the restaurants were filled with people ready to toast the beginning of the Christmas holidays: we were not yet living the nightmare of the Covid19 pandemic that, soon after, would have deeply marked the existence of all.

After midnight, with the sky more and more disturbed by thunder and rain, the groups of young people who crowded the squares began to disperse and say goodbye. And then the unthinkable happened: two girls crossed Corso Francia and were run over by a white SUV speeding at over 80 km/h. They died instantly, the autopsy will later clarify.

Initially it seemed that they had even jumped over the guardrail passing through the pedestrian red light: then the version changes, they passed with the green light, crossing regularly on the lines. It is a succession of rumours, hypotheses and conjectures that weigh like boulders on the shoulders of the protagonists of this terrible story.

The last name of the defendant for these road deaths turns on the spotlight, triggers the morbid attention of the press and outrages public opinion. Because Pietro Genovese, son of a well-known movie director, that night drank too much and in his blood there is a quantity of alcohol three times higher than what the law allows: that is zero, for new drivers like him. In addition, toxicological tests have shown the presence of opiates: it is not possible to determine whether or not they were taken that night but, for sure, their presence helps to delineate even more strongly the personality of the boy, drawn by the press as problematic and prone to transgressions.

After a year of real "media pillorying", of suppositions that were then denied, of certainties that wavered and became uncertain, the ruling of the Court of Rome arrived, truly severe: on the one hand there are two corpses who are asking for justice, on the other hand there is a young man of just twenty years old who, although probably guilty, legitimately hopes not to receive a "coup de grace" that will end up destroying his life.

The Public Prosecutor asked for a sentence of 5 years imprisonment, considering that the case was being tried according to the abbreviated procedure. However, the Court inflicts a much harsher punishment, setting the sentence at 8 years and also granting compensation, on a provisional basis, of 180.000 euros for each of the four parents of the victims. The press reports that the judge read the verdict while looking at the families of the victims: this event, if true, should leave anyone speechless.

According to our constitutional values, the Judge should respond to the logic of impartiality and third party: could not, therefore, indulge in emotion because when he reads a device the voice that pronounces those words should not be his, but that of the law, applied in the name of the people.

On the level of the punishment dosimetry, it cannot be omitted to remember that our system is based on the "favor rei" and that the penalty has only a rehabilitative and re-educational purpose, never punitive, according to art. 27 of the Italian Constitution, according to which paragraph 3 "the penalties cannot consist in treatments contrary to the sense of humanity and must tend to the re-education of the convicted".

It is therefore appropriate to ask whether the judgment in question can actually meet these criteria.

On the one hand, one wonders whether it is possible for a young man of just twenty years of age to be rehabilitated after such a harsh sentence: how will he be reintroduced into society after a long imprisonment and the related psychological consequences? On the other hand, however, how can the State give a firm and decisive response to such misconduct, if not through the severity of the penalties?

Surely, even if the Court of Appeal will confirm the decision of first instance, that of the young Pietro Genovese will be a life definitely marked: that of the third victim of this immense tragedy.


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