Martin & Kent, L.L.C. Martin & Kent, L.L.C.

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"Affluenza" label used by expert in teen drunk driving case

Drunk driving causes many deaths and injuries every year in Illinois and around the country. On June 15, 2013, a drunk teen got into his truck after a night of drinking and crashed into a ditch, instantly killing four people who were helping a stranded motorist on the side of the road. The Texas case received nationwide attention because a defense expert testified that the teen suffered from "affluenza," a term used to describe the teen's inability to understand the consequences of his actions due to his privileged upbringing.

At trial, the teen pleaded guilty to four counts of intoxication manslaughter. During the following sentencing hearing, a prominent psychologist hired by the teen's family testified that the defendant should receive rehab instead of jail time. The psychologist explained that the teen was taught that because his family was rich, rules did not apply to him. The witness stated that the teen's parents were highly dysfunctional and had taught him that if he hurt someone he could send money instead of facing consequences.

Prior to the drunk driving incident, a teacher at the teen's school had expressed concern when the child was allowed to drive to school alone when he was only 13 years old. The parents responded by pulling the boy out of school and home-schooling him. After the hearing, a judge sentenced the teen to 10 years of probation and time in a rehab facility, a ruling which shocked many.

When drunk driving causes a serious accident, criminal charges can result in a felony conviction for the driver. Usually this carries a harsh prison sentence along with fines and license suspension. A person who has been charged with drunk driving may wish to consult a criminal defense attorney in order to build a strategy to use before or at trial, which could include entering into plea negotiations with the prosecutor seeking more lenient penalties in exchange for a guilty plea.

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