Texas Criminal Defense Lawyer Reports: Texas Lawmakers Want to Ban “Affluenza” Defense

In mid-December of 2013, a Fort Worth Juvenile Court Judge sentenced a 16-year old boy to 10 years probation for intoxication-induced manslaughter. According to testimony and surveillance video, the teen and his friends stole two cases of beer from a store. Later that day, the teen was speeding and slammed into four pedestrians, killing them all. At the time of accident, the teen’s blood alcohol level was found to be three times the legal limit. Two of the seven of passengers who were riding in the bed of the teen’s pickup were also seriously injured. One suffered a brain injury and today, cannot move or talk.

At the sentencing hearing, attorneys for the teen presented what is being referred to as the “affluenza” defense. The court heard testimony from a psychologist, serving as an expert witness for the teen, that the teen suffered from “affluenza” by being reared in a very wealthy household with two parents who were engrossed with arguments, which led to their eventual divorce. The psychologist described the teen’s father as not having relationships and his mother as being oerly indulgent. The two never set limits for their son. According to the attorneys for the teen, the Judge specifically stated that she did not base her sentencing decision on the “affluenza” defense. While that may be true, the victims’ families and the prosecutors were disappointed with the Judge’s sentence.

Prosecutors had asked the Judge to sentence the teen to twenty years behind bars. With the Judge’s current ruling the teen will not serve any time in jail. Rather he will attend a treatment facility, the cost of which will exceed $450,000 per year. The teen’s parents were ordered to pay for the cost of the treatment. It is uncertain how long the teen will have to stay at the treatment center. Some of the victims’ families expressed that they thought the teen’s family’s wealth helped him get out of serving jail time.

The victims’ families and the prosecutors are not the only people unhappy with the outcome of this case. Now, several Texas lawmakers want to ban the so called “affluenza” defense. In November, James White, a Southeast Texas state representative, presented a bill that would essentially prohibit an individual from discussing his or her “affluent circumstances” during sentencing. White proposed the bill because he thinks the affluenza defense has added to people’s lack of trust in the justice system. White points to the inherent unfairness in a judge or jury being able to take into consideration an individual’s affluent circumstances as the basis for committing a crime—a defense that would not be available to the less fortunate.

Critics of the defense also include an attorney who represented several defendants in civil cases against the teen. She opined that teen’s attorneys were creative with a made-up defense. She went on to say that the defense has no scientific backing and should not have been allowed to be presented at the sentence hearing.

Since White filed his bill, two other legislators have submitted their own similar bills. What will happen to the bills as of now remains unseen. The new session of the legislature begins in January 2015.

If you have been arrested and charged with drunk driving, the first thing you need to do is to make an appointment to meet with an experienced Texas Criminal Defense Lawyer. A skilled DWI Defense Attorney will explain your rights and review your legal options with you. Attorney Jack Pettit, has represented countless persons charged with DWI. As a former prosecutor, Jack Pettit knows what it takes to fight a charge of DWI and win. Call the Law Offices of Jack Pettit today at (214) 521-4567 to schedule a free and completely confidential consultation. Our office provides services to clients in both English and Spanish. Major credit cards are accepted as well.

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