Deposition transcripts shed light on teen's affluenza DUI defense

Many media outlets in Michigan and around the country reacted angrily in 2013 when a Texas teen avoided jail after admitting to driving drunk and causing an accident that claimed the lives of four people. The judge in the case heard three days of testimony before passing sentence, and defense attorneys were successful in convincing her that the teen's wealthy parents and affluent upbringing had left him incapable of making morally correct decisions.

The case generated renewed media interest in October 2015 when audio transcripts of depositions made in connection with a civil lawsuit were released. The recordings reveal that the boy's parents had a difficult relationship and often indulged him to make up for fighting in front of him. A psychologist testified at the teens sentencing hearing that being spoiled and escaping any form of punishment for bad behavior had left him dysfunctional.

One example of preferential treatment that may have swayed the judge occurred approximately four months before the fatal accident. According to a police report, officers determined that the teen was clearly under the influence when he was found relieving himself in a deserted parking lot. However, the officers decided to call the boy's mother to have him driven home rather than file drunk driving charges.

The American criminal justice system places the onus on prosecutors and is designed to give defendants the benefit of the doubt. Criminal defense attorneys may advocate on behalf of their clients by challenging evidence in drunk driving cases. These efforts could include disputing the reliability of toxicology test results or questioning the thoroughness or accuracy of police reports. Attorneys may also call upon psychologists or other experts to explain behavior that may seem out of step with what would normally be considered socially acceptable.