Most arrests for driving under the influence are not particularly interesting, and don’t draw major headline attention. Every now and then, though, you hear a story of a drunk driving conviction so outlandish it almost seems like a work of fiction. These outrageous cases managed to catch – and keep – public attention in a way usually reserved for more sensational crimes.
The Affluenza Kid
Ethan Couch was only 16 years old when he was convicted of vehicular manslaughter after driving drunk and causing an accident that killed four people and seriously injured two others. Despite prosecution pushing for a 22-year sentence, Couch walked away with only probation, thanks to a psychologist who argued that he couldn’t be held responsible for his behavior because he has had privileges and freedoms that no youth would be able to handle.
Couch’s wealthy parents had long allowed him to get away with everything and avoid consequences for his actions, according to his defense. So when he stole beer from Wal-Mart, drank it with his (also underage) buddies, and got behind the wheel of his Ford F-350 with a blood alcohol content three times the legal limit and killed innocent bystanders, it was argued that he should be able to continue his streak and literally get away with murder. After all, he wasn’t accustomed to facing the music after making bad decisions, and he had learned a valuable lesson. His lawyers applied the term “affluenza” to his lack of judgment resulting from a life lived as one of the overly privileged. The case made national headlines for weeks, outraging the population at large and people who actually faced consequences for their drunk driving arrests in particular.
Texas sentencing guidelines for Couch’s type and magnitude of crime call for fines up to $10,000 and between two and 22 years in prison. Couch, however, received 10 years of probation and a stern lecture. If he slips up again, he faces the possibility of jail time. His mother admitted in a deposition that she didn’t remember the last time she had punished him. The families of his victims say the boy has still not apologized to them for the death of their loved ones, and Couch’s family is now being sued in five different civil suits.
Ironically, the judge in the case, Judge Jean Boyd, had previously been criticized for sentencing 16-year-old drunk driver Eric Bradlee Miller to 20 years in prison, despite the fact that Miller had a lower BAC than Couch, and killing “only” one victim. At the time of the sentencing, Judge Boyd told Miller, who came from a rough background, “the court is aware you had a sad childhood … I hope you will take advantage of the services [offered by the Texas Youth Commission] and turn your life around.”
The Cautionary Tweet
In November 2013, 22-year-old Kayla Mendoza ran up a $65 bar tab, tweeted the words “2 drunk 2 care,” and got behind the wheel of her car. She ended up driving the wrong way down the Sawgrass Expressway in Florida and collided head-on with another vehicle, killing two women. Mendoza suffered fractures to her femur, fibula, and tibia in the crash, but avoided serious injuries. In addition to her .15 BAC, Mendoza had traces of marijuana in her system. She pled guilty and begged forgiveness from the families of her victims, tearfully stating that she would trade places with them if she could.
In a letter to the families, Mendoza said, “I think about them every day, and I regret my choices every day. I don’t remember deciding to drive, so I can’t even tell you what was going through my mind when I made that decision. I have no excuses for anything I’ve done. I just ask for forgiveness.”
Despite her tears and contrition, a judge sentenced Mendoza to 24 years in prison, followed by six years of probation, permanently revoked her driver’s license, and ordered Mendoza to pay for the cost of prosecution and investigation. When she is released in 2039, Mendoza will have spent more time in prison than she had been alive before her conviction.
The Hypocritical Judge
Florida Judge Cynthia Imperato had a reputation for being tough on drunk drivers, and prided herself on throwing the book at people convicted of driving under the influence. However, in 2013, Imperato was pulled over for reckless driving and found to be drunk. Rather than being embarrassed and cooperating with law enforcement officers, Imperato played the, “Don’t you know who I am?” card and tried to use her status to get away with her crime. She initially refused to get out of the car, instead trying unsuccessfully to dial her lawyer’s phone number. (A handy rule – if you’re too drunk to use the phone, you’re too drunk to use the car.) Imperato then refused to take a breath test or perform roadside sobriety tests, and was combative and uncooperative with police throughout the duration of the case.
During her trial, she apologized to the officers for making things difficult for them and interfering with their work. “I apologize for putting you guys through everything you have been through. I know it has been two sets of depositions [and] numerous phone calls; this is your second trial and they were just doing their job,” Imperato said.
She was eventually sentenced to a public reprimand, a fine of $5,000, and 22 days under house arrest, followed by a year of probation. An investigation was held to determine if she would be able to keep her job, and it was decided that Imperato could remain on the bench.
Who You Gonna Call?
Drunk driving is a serious offense, and not something that should be excused easily. Lives and liberties can be lost with DWIs, and pain is felt long after the headlines go away. If you need a DWI lawyer in Houston to handle your case and help you get your life back in order, contact Thiessen Law Firm today.