New Jersey residents likely recall the media furor surrounding the so-called “affluenza” DWI case in 2013. The case involved a Texas teenager who escaped jail following a drunk driving accident that left four people dead and another seriously injured. The teen’s attorneys convinced the judge that their client was unable to differentiate between right and wrong because he had been indulged by his wealthy parents. The case has begun to make headlines again after audio transcripts from depositions taken in connection with a civil suit were released by media outlets.
The tapes reveal that the teen’s parents had a troubled relationship and often spoiled their son after arguing in his presence. They also indicate that the boy was brought up to believe that actions have few consequences for the wealthy. One clear example of the attitude of the teen’s parents found on the deposition tapes concerns the boy driving unaccompanied at the age of 13. The tapes reveal that the teen’s parents decided to have their adolescent son home schooled when they were informed by his school that his driving was unacceptable.
The judge in the criminal case was swayed by the arguments made by the teen’s defense attorneys, and he was sentenced to 10 years probation and ordered to attend alcohol counseling after entering guilty pleas to a raft of charges. The teen’s blood alcohol level is said to have been three times the legal limit when he struck a group of pedestrians while behind the wheel of his father’s pickup truck.
When the public is outraged by a lenient sentence, it is often a sign that a criminal defense attorney has advocated vigorously on behalf of their client. Defense attorneys may approach a drunk driving case by both challenging the evidence, such as the reliability of toxicology test results or the accuracy of police reports, and pointing out mitigating factors designed to shed new light on the client’s actions.