A 16-year-old who drove drunk and killed four people and injured two others presented an interesting case to the judge, with a defense psychologist testifying in juvenile court that the boy’s actions were the result of a bad case of “affluenza.”
That is, the youth was very wealthy and growing up, his parents failed to hold him accountable for any of his actions. His permissive parents did not show him socially appropriate consequences for socially inappropriate conduct.
Our North Carolina injury lawyers have to give the defense in this case points for creativity. However, few believed it would actually work. Then, to the outrage of the victims’ families, the juvenile judge slashed what could have been a 20 year prison term into 10 years of probation, portions of which will include time in a long-term treatment facility. The $450,000 bill for that “country club-style” facility, which offers organic food choices and equine therapy, will be paid for by the teen’s father.
Granted, the purpose of the juvenile justice system is the valuation of rehabilitation over punishment. But many are critical of the fact that the teen wasn’t tried as an adult in the first place, given the severity of the crime.
The implications of the judge’s decision are troubling, as it appears to suggest that the law alone isn’t enough to deter someone from committing criminal acts, such as drunk driving. The ruling indicates that someone must have experienced a certain degree of consequences for his past behavior in order to be held accountable for current behavior. How should we determine the appropriate level of prior parental discipline relative to the crime at hand?
The ruling further insinuates that the defendant was not able to learn about consequences within any other area of his life.
And let’s not forget, there are many far less affluent teens who are likely to have faced severe consequences for bad behavior because perhaps they had single parents working two jobs who weren’t able to invest more time. You would be hard-pressed to find any judge who would find this to be an acceptable reason for unlawful acts.
Now, the survivors and families of those lost are suing the teen and his parents. Here, the defense used in the criminal case may in the end be advantageous in the civil claim. The parents are named as defendants, who reportedly failed in their duty to prevent a person they knew (or should have known) was a reckless and inexperienced driver behind the wheel.
Each of the families is suing for anywhere from $1 million to $20 million.
According to court records, the Texas teen was with a group of friends on the night in question. All had been drinking, including him. He was behind the wheel of his parent’s red Ford F350 pick-up truck, which he was operating at 70 miles-per-hour in a 40-mile-per-hour zone.
On the side of the road were a young woman in a broken down vehicle, along with several other people who had stopped to help her.
The teen drunk driver lost control of the truck and slammed into the vehicles along the roadside.
Some were killed upon impact. Others died later at the hospital. Two of his friends suffered permanent injuries, including paralysis and brain damage.
His blood-alcohol level at the time of the crash was deemed to be 0.24 percent – three times the legal limit for an adult.
If you have been injured in a car accident, contact the North Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices today by calling 800-887-1965.
There’s No Defense for Affluenza, Dec. 17, 2013, By Robin S. Rosenberg, Slate.com
More Blog Entries:
North Carolina Traffic Safety: Teen Fatalities and Seat Belt Usage, Nov. 11, 2013, Winston-Salem Car Accident Lawyer Blog