, Newburyport, MA

December 30, 2013

Special treatment for serial drunken driver?

Newburyport Daily News

---- — One of the state’s worst serial drunken drivers is on the street today, after twice violating the terms of his probation.

We can only hope he’s not driving, but who knows?

The man whose driver’s license was revoked for life in 2005 — after 17 convictions for drunken driving — continues to defy the law and judges’ orders with no apparent consequences.

In 2005, a judge gave Charles Stefanilo a break, sentencing him to five years in jail, instead of seven, but placed him on probation for 25 years. If he violated the terms of his probation — including that he never get behind the wheel of a car again — he would be sent back to jail for another two years.

But it didn’t take long for Stefanilo, who lists addresses in Peabody and Medford, to ignore the driving ban. After getting out of jail, he bought a canteen truck and went into business. He said he hired other people to drive the truck, but in 2011, he was arrested for driving it himself. The judge gave him another break and another warning — if he drove again, he really would go back to jail.

He drove again. This summer he rear-ended a car in Charlestown with his canteen truck.

His probation officer asked for a warrant to bring him into custody for violating his probation. Just weeks before the court hearing, however, the probation department reassigned Stefanilo to a different officer, who agreed that he should simply be placed back on probation and ordered — once again — not to drive. No one knows why; the probation department refuses to say. But a judge went along and let him off again.

This is a man who has endangered the public for more than 30 years, all the while thumbing his nose at the law. If, as he claimed in 2011, he has been sober since going to jail in 2005, that’s a great step forward. But it doesn’t excuse his repeated defiance of court orders.

It’s a pattern that goes beyond the driving. When arrested in 2011, Stefanilo also was charged with disobeying an officer and driving an unregistered, uninsured vehicle with defective equipment. This time, he was seen switching seats with a passenger in an apparent effort to trick police into believing he hadn’t been driving. There’s no evidence he’s paid a dime of the $50,000 fine he is supposed to be paying off, though he has certainly cost taxpayers a bundle both to prosecute and incarcerate over the years.

The law is supposed to apply equally to all of us, but Stefanilo appears to be an exception. That raises the question of whether justice really is blind, or whether some get special treatment. It makes a mockery of a probation system that does not enforce orders or punish repeated violations.

And it makes all the rest of us out there on the streets vulnerable.

Another hearing is coming up, and the court system has one more chance to send a message to scofflaws everywhere. We’ll be waiting to see who wins — Charles Stefanilo or the law.