When you are a parent and your child does something wrong, you want to make sure he learns a lesson. Often times, it means punishing your child for his or her poor actions. But once your child is an adult and his poor decisions could land him behind bars, does the role of parent as punisher give way to a new role—parent as co-conspirator? In the case of Janiber Vieira, it sure did.
Vieira is mother to David Britto, a former Boynton Beach police officer who was arrested for drug trafficking while he was a cop. Britto, Boyton Beach’s 2010 Officer of the Year, allegedly conspired to traffic in 500 grams of methamphetamines. According to federal prosecutors, Britto also sold guns to drug traffickers. Facing ten years to life in prison, Britto jumped bond. Vieira bought her son a plane ticket to Brazil, a country which does not extradite, and then lied to law enforcement about his whereabouts. She told Drug Enforcement Agency officials that she didn’t know where her son was and that she had no part in helping him escape. Vieira was arrested at Kennedy Airport in New York, where she herself was attempting to leave the country.
For her part in helping her son escape prosecution, Vieira was sentenced to a year and a day in prison and three years probation. Vieira had no prior criminal record whatsoever. She was facing a maximum of five years in prison and her attorneys were asking for her to be sentenced to the three months she already spent in jail.
According to Vieira’s attorneys, she was in fear that her son would commit suicide if he remained in the United States to face charges. Because she feared for the safety of her son, she felt she had no choice but to do whatever she could to ensure his well-being, even if that meant helping him commit a crime by fleeing.
Clearly, Vieira broke the law by helping her son evade prosecution. But, frankly, what parent wouldn’t do whatever it takes to ensure that their child is safe? Even if Britto wasn’t suicidal, he’s facing a lifetime in prison. His mother knew there was a way to keep him both safe and out of jail.
Certainly, part of criminal law is punishment and clearly the judge intended to punish Vieira for her actions. But another big part is deterrence, the idea that in punishing person A harshly for committing a crime, it deters person B from committing that same crime. However, in the case of Vieira, it’s unlikely that any parent would be deterred from doing the exact same thing if her child’s life hung in the balance. It may mean her child doesn’t learn the lesson this time. But if the child would be spending the rest of his life in prison anyway, learning a lesson really wouldn’t do him much good regardless.