Toyota is paying $1.2 billion for its criminal action of lying about a gas-pedal defect that killed people. General Motors is the subject of a criminal investigation for taking more than a decade to recall defective vehicles linked to at least 31 accidents and 12 deaths.

Toyota, which recent news reports say has $35 billion in cash on hand, can afford the fine. So can General Motors if it, too, is found criminally guilty.

While Toyota and GM can get off the hook by picking up the corporate checkbook, Rachel Stacey Downer faces manslaughter charges and could spend up to 10 years in prison after being accused of driving off and letting a 6-year-old freeze to death in Bemidji, Minn. I don’t have much sympathy for Downer — someone with responsibility for the safety of a child should be held to a very high standard. But there’s something badly wrong with our legal system when the only ones who can be locked up for having a role in people dying are those who can’t buy their way out.

Steven Schild, Winona, Minn.