Sentences creative for teen drivers
Broward County Judge Louis H. Schiff


Miami Herald
Posted August 4, 2002

 
Broward County Judge Louis H. Schiff remembers the driver who never made it back.

He ordered the young man, in court for improper backing, to take some pictures of roadside memorials as part of his sentence.

The day the project was due, the teen's lawyer stood alone.

His 18-year-old client had died in a motorcycle accident.

''That's the ultimate price you pay for driving without a license,'' Schiff said, relating the story recently to another teenager in his courtroom at the North Regional Courthouse in Deerfield Beach. ``The death penalty.''

To drive that message home, Schiff, 47, created a program a couple of years ago that he hopes makes young drivers stop and think about what can happen when they get behind the wheel. Most have been caught driving without a license or on a suspended license.

He started what he calls ''creative sentencing'' -- conditions added on to their fines or in lieu of fines to make the teens and young adults conscientious drivers.

Some he sentences to read newspapers every day for a month or longer, clip out stories about traffic accidents and put them in a scrapbook.

Others must raise their grade point average, get a B in math class, graduate or bring proof that they passed a high school equivalency test.

And others must go out and photograph roadside memorials, spots where people died in crashes.

These conditions are part of the drivers' sentences.

''I can't wrestle the keys from them,'' Schiff said.

But he can try to make them think.

The program is a good idea, said Coral Springs police Sgt. Jim Hanrahan, the department's traffic supervisor.

''If anything, it'll help for these kids to realize what the consequences are,'' Hanrahan said. ``That's the big problem -- the kids don't realize there are consequences.''

Last year in Florida, 168 drivers age 19 and younger were killed in traffic accidents, according to the state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. In the same age group, 18,567 drivers were injured in crashes.

Schiff figures he has assigned at least 100 of these projects since 2000, and that

doesn't include the many times he tells drivers in court to leaf through photos or scrapbooks that others have completed.

'The judge is saying: `I'm going to educate you. I'm going to force you to realize what you're doing,' '' said Charles Zelden, an associate professor of legal history at Nova Southeastern University. ``That is commitment on the part of the judge, and he should be applauded for that.''

Teen drivers make up a small percentage of Schiff's docket on a regular day. But in court -- sometimes to the dismay of the others waiting for their names to be called -- he doesn't rush with the kids.

He wants them to know that driving is important.

Schiff, who said he didn't drive until he was a senior in high school, doesn't know of any other judges who assign similar projects.

He keeps the stacks of photos and scrapbooks full of newspaper clippings.

''The back of my bench is just filled with them,'' Schiff said.

It is not clear how effective the program is. Schiff said his office does not keep track of drivers after they have finished a project.

Courtney Hostzclaw, who will be 17 on Tuesday, recently added his project to the batch. Charged with operating without a valid license, the Lauderhill teen had to read newspapers for 30 days and find stories about traffic crashes.

''It was more than 30 articles,'' Courtney said later.

The judge praised his work but told him he will not be allowed to get a license until he enrolls in school full time.

Cedric Roberson, 18, of Pompano Beach, was charged with operating a vehicle without a valid license. He had to show proof to Schiff that he had finished school before he would be allowed to get a license.

He brought in a diploma from Cornerstone Christian Correspondence School on July 18. Applause broke out in Schiff's packed courtroom.

''It made me want to get it,'' said a beaming Roberson.

Schiff sentenced Monica Angulo, 20, of North Lauderdale, to find roadside memorials around Broward.

She was charged with letting an unauthorized person drive her car after her boyfriend -- who was unlicensed -- crashed her car in December. The two had been drinking to celebrate her 19th birthday.

She came to court recently with a stack of photos of roadside memorials.

''You get to notice them when you drive down the road,'' Angulo said. ``It kind of opens your eyes. . . . Somebody died.''

The teen who didn't return to court -- the one whose story Schiff tells to other teens -- was Michael Schuler of Plantation.

He died in a motorcycle crash in September 2000 after doing a wheelie while speeding on Northwest Sixth Court, not far from his home.

Orlando Buch, the attorney, hopes teens who hear about Schuler from Schiff will learn from the story.

''Mike didn't die in vain,'' he said.

 

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Updated 12/11/2003