Dallas, TX- In February of this year, a Texas DWI case involving a wealthy teenager shocked the nation because, in spite of killing four people, he managed to get a ridiculously lenient sentence. That’s because his defense attorney argued that his privileged life made him unable to understand the consequences of his actions. This became known as the “affluenza” defense, and now state lawmakers want to make certain it can’t be used by other DWI suspects.
CBS Dallas- Fort Worth reported that several Texas lawmakers filed a bill that will forbid DWI suspects for using “affluent circumstances” during the penalty phase of their trial. State Representative James White told the station that such a defense affords wealthy defendants preferential treatment denied to poorer defendants. White also said such a defense causes people to distrust the legal system.
The teen driver, Ethan Couch, was three times Texas’ legal limit of .08 and had taken Xanax the night he plowed into four people standing on road side offering assistance to a stranded motorist. Those four people died and some of Couch’s passengers were seriously injured.
Couch, who was 16 when he caused the July 2012 accident, pled guilty to driving under the influence and causing the four deaths. The maximum penalty for his actions was 20 years in jail, but would not end up serving one day in jail. Instead, he was sentenced to 10 years of probation and ordered to go to posh rehab facility to be paid for by his parents.
Couch managed such a light sentence because a psychologist testified that he was suffering from a condition called “affluenza.” The psychologist told the court that because Couch was taught money could buy him anything, he had no way of understanding that his actions have consequences. The judge in this case apparently thought the teen would learn a valuable lesson about consequences by just giving the young man a slap on the wrist.
Rep. White and a handful of other lawmakers who have introduced similar bills hope that when the new legislative session begins in January 2015. This defense outrage the people in Texas and the nation as a whole so White and other lawmakers might just manage to pass their bills.
Attorney Regan Speers, who is representing several of the victims in their civil suits against Couch, told CBS DFW that the affluent circumstances defense should have never been allowed, since it is not a peer-reviewed defense. She said it was not base in science and was a something a psychologist made up.
Driving while intoxicated has a number of consequences, and has Couch’s case shows, those consequences may be direr for people who don’t have deep pockets like this teen’s parents. Any person charged with a DWI has a right to present evidence in their defense and present any extenuating circumstances that may call for leniency in their sentencing. And only a Dallas DWI attorney is capable of providing a DWI offender with a strong defense.