Colorado readers may already be aware of the high-profile case of a wealthy Texas teen who was given — what many consider — a light sentence in connection with an accident that killed four people and injured two others. The case made national headlines when an expert witness described the defendant as a victim of “affluenza.” In other words, he was a privileged and wealthy teenager who had lived without parental limits.
On Feb. 5, a judge ordered the teen to a locked residential treatment facility. Last year, a state district judge made the decision not to sentence him to jail and instead gave him 10 years’ probation. The conditions of the teen’s probation prohibit him from using alcohol or drugs. In addition, he is not permitted to drive. If he violates his probationary terms, he may be facing as much as 10 years in prison. The prosecution and the victims’ families expressed disappointment that the penalties were not more severe.
The accident occurred in June of 2013, when the teenager drove his pickup into a group of four pedestrians in Burleson, Texas. All four were killed in the collision. There were two passengers in the back of the pickup, and both were severely injured. The teen had a blood alcohol level of .24 three hours after the accident occurred.
The media has focused attention on the catchy term “affluenza” to describe a culture of wealthy children who act irresponsibly or dangerously because they lack parental discipline and have been sheltered from the consequences of their behavior. The teen’s defense attorney testified that the teenager was emotionally delayed as the result of his upbringing and home environment. His emotional impairment may have interfered with his ability to understand the potentially harmful consequences of drinking and driving. The judge agreed and chose rehabilitation for the young man, rather than incarceration, in the belief that this would be in the defendant’s best interest.