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Texas ‘affluenza’ case incites anger, lawsuits, call for jail time

– It is the Texas case with fiery elements: the fear of unequal justice, a rich kid who claimed his family’s wealth entitled him to special consideration, and the tragic death of four people in a drunken-driving episode.

All that and more was wrapped in the catchy word “affluenza,” a condition many don’t think exists.

This month, Judge Jean Boyd of the Fort Worth Juvenile Court sentenced a 16-year-old to 10 years’ probation and ordered him to get therapy, for which his family will pay, to settle a drunken-driving case in which four people died.

Now, those who feel betrayed by what they see as the law’s leniency are striking back.

On Thursday, Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst announced that he’s issuing a “charge” to the state Senate committee on criminal justice to study sentencing in such cases.

Dewhurst said in a statement that drunken driving is a personal issue for him: He was 3 when his father was killed by a drunken driver.

“The decision to drive under the influence is the cause of entirely too much pain, injury and death in Texas,” Dewhurst said. “As with any crime in Texas, we must ensure justice is served.”

Prosecutors announced this week they would ask the judge to incarcerate the teen on lesser charges connected to his June 15 crash on a rural road in Texas.

Families of those who died have announced they will pursue civil suits.

Even the main candidates in the state’s gubernatorial race have agreed that the decision was wrong and that the political system should consider laws to make sure it can’t happen again.

Prosecutors had sought 20 years in prison. But the defense argued that therapy was more appropriate and put a psychologist on the stand who testified about affluenza – a condition, he said, that could prevent someone from a wealthy background from understanding that bad behavior has consequences.

But later, the psychologist, G. Dick Miller, told reporters that he regretted his choice of words.

“I wish I had not used that term,” he said on CNN this month. “Everyone seems to have hooked on to it.”

Beyond the word itself is the reality of a teen from a wealthy family being sentenced to a therapy center, costing a reported $450,000 a year, paid for by his parents.

“Everyone’s just assuming this affluenza defense worked,” said Robert Kepple, executive director of the Texas District and County Attorneys Association. “There might be a lot of reasons this judge decided the best thing for this 16-year-old is rehabilitation and therapy.”

But Eric Boyles, who lost his wife and daughter in the accident, told reporters after the probation decision was announced that “ultimately today, I felt that money did prevail.”

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