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Probation For Teen Who Killed 4: Here's The Judge's Thinking

The news that a 16-year-old boy from Texas was sentenced this week to 10 years of probation for driving drunk and causing a crash that killed four people has led to many headlines such as this, from Time:

"The Affluenza Defense: Judge Rules Rich Kid's Rich Kid-ness Makes Him Not Liable for Deadly Drunk Driving Accident."

The sentence handed down in a Fort Worth juvenile court led Dallas Morning News editorial writer Mike Hashimoto to say that the only lesson the teen learned is that "it's far better to come from that wealthy place where actions seldom have those nasty old consequences. That's for other folks."

Most of the reports we're seeing focus on the argument from the boy's attorneys that he suffered from "affluennza" — a coddled upbringing during which his wealthy parents have never held him accountable for his actions. The reports have relatively little mention of State District Judge Jean Boyd's reasoning or go into much detail about the conditions of the sentence.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, though, includes these points:

"Boyd ordered the 16-year-old to receive therapy at a long-term, in-patient facility. He will stay in Tarrant County juvenile detention until the juvenile probation department prepares a report about possible treatment programs.

"If the teen violates the terms of his probation, he could be sent to prison for 10 years. ...

"In delivering the sentence, Boyd told the victims' families in the packed courtroom that there was nothing she could do that would lessen their pain. And she told the teen that he, not his parents, is responsible for his actions.

"Boyd said that she is familiar with programs available in the Texas juvenile justice system and is aware that he might not get the kind of intensive therapy in a state-run program that he could receive at the California facility suggested by his attorneys. Boyd said she had sentenced other teens to state programs but they never actually got into those programs."

The Star-Telegram adds that "Scott Brown, an attorney who represented the teen with Reagan Wynn, said the teen could have been freed in two years if Boyd had sentenced him to 20 years. 'She fashioned a sentence that could have him under the thumb of the justice system for the next 10 years,' Brown said."

The boy's parents will pay the $450,000-a-year cost for his treatment, which could last several years.

Family members of the victims aren't pleased with the judge's decision. The Associated Press reports that:

"Eric Boyles, who lost his wife and daughter, said the family's wealth helped the teen avoid incarceration.

" 'Money always seems to keep you out of trouble,' Boyles said. 'Ultimately today, I felt that money did prevail. If you had been any other youth, I feel like the circumstances would have been different.'

"Shaunna Jennings, the minister's widow, said her family had forgiven the teen but believed a sterner punishment was needed.

" 'You lived a life of privilege and entitlement, and my prayer is that it does not get you out of this," she said. "My fear is that it will get you out of this.' "

After seeing some of the judge's thinking, we're interested in hearing what everyone thinks.

Note: We are aware we didn't name the teen. In general, NPR avoids identifying minors who are prosecuted as juveniles or are victims of crimes. We are also aware that other news outlets have named him and that it will be easy to find out who he is if you wish.

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Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.