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The policy behind Texas teen's drunk driving sentence

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The case has absorbed media outlets since the Texas District Judge sentenced a teen driver to ten years' probation. Many in the state, including legislators, are torn by the recent court decision, which may not be as harsh as some would have preferred. Yet, it is important to take a critical look into the argument and law in this North Texas teens' recent conviction for a drunk driving incident that resulted in the death of four pedestrians.

Last June, a 16-year-old boy was driving under the influence when his pickup truck hit pedestrians in Tarrant County, resulting in the death of four. After charges and substantial arguments in court, the judge overseeing the case sentenced the boy to 10 years' probation. Many are outraged by the arguably lighter sentence. However, it is important to appreciate why such a sentence is available in this particular situation.

While the state of Texas operates on mandatory and minimum sentencing criteria for most criminal cases, juvenile charges are often outside of such parameters. Thus, while a judge who sentences an adult charged with a DUI and harm to others is obligated to stay above certain minimum sentence requirements, when a juvenile is the defendant, the minimum sentencing requirements are different.

This is certainly because when youth make poor decisions, family influence, peer pressure and irresponsibility plague the event. The law strives to enact lighter sentencing requirements on minors in order to give them a second chance and perhaps offer the invaluable opportunity to learn a lesson and move on to be a substantial contributor to society. Further, youth are particularly vulnerable people who will experience a particularly harsh and damaging behind bars bout.

This issue is an extremely sensitive and hotly debated one in the state at the moment. Nonetheless, it is also important to not loose site of the policy behind the law.

Source: NBC DFW, "Teen's Sentence in Fatal DWI Crash Sparks Ire," Dec. 12, 2013.

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