New Jersey residents may recall a drunk driving case involving a Texas teenager who was sentenced to probation and ordered to attend alcohol counseling sessions after his attorneys successfully argued that his indulgent upbringing had made it difficult for him to tell right from wrong. The 16-year-old entered guilty pleas to a raft of charges including four counts of intoxication manslaughter in December 2013.
The June 2013 accident also led to a civil lawsuit, and deposition tapes released in October 2015 have provided additional details about the teen's privileged upbringing. According to the deposition testimony, the teen's wealthy parents had a contentious relationship, and they often indulged their son after an argument. A child psychologist testifying during the sentencing hearing said that the boy had not been provided with clear boundaries by his parents and had grown up in an atmosphere of indulgence without consequence.
The teen admitted to driving his father's powerful pickup truck after partying and drinking with friends. According to Texas police, the pickup truck was traveling at speeds of up to 70 mph before striking a disabled vehicle and a group of individuals who had been standing nearby. The accident claimed four lives. It was later learned that the teen had been involved in another drunk drivingincident four months earlier. Police reports indicate that the teen was clearly intoxicated when he was discovered relieving himself in a parking lot, but no charges were filed and his mother was called to drive him home.
While the strategy adopted by the criminal defense attorneys in this case may have angered some, it also shows how judges are sometimes willing to listen to unconventional arguments and give defendants the benefit of the doubt. Criminal charges must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt, and defense attorneys may pursue an unpopular strategy if it is in their client's best interests.