You Can Take Your Affluenza And Shove It, Judge Jean Boyd.
Dear Judge Jean Boyd,
How are you holding up today? We know the last few days must have been trying for you, what with the lenient sentence you gave a Keller 16-year-old who admitted to getting behind the wheel for an alcohol and valium-fueled rampage that left four dead and seriously injured two of his passengers and all.
It can't have been easy to deal with all of that negative press. Virtually the entire local, national and even international media has jumped on the story, calling you out for sentencing the defendant to 10 years of probation, rather than sending him to prison for 20 years as the district attorney and victims' families suggested.
When you delivered your sentence, you told those gathered in the courtroom that you felt that the rehabilitation programs offered by the Texas juvenile justice system were inadequate compared to the treatment the 16-year-old would receive at the California facility his parents had pledged to send him to if he received probation.
And, y'know what? There's actually a lot in your sentiment that we agree with.
The Texas criminal justice system — for juveniles and adults alike — is utterly fucked. We've had prosecutors build entire political careers around cases where evidence they were accused of wrongfully witholding helped convict innocent men. We've killed men who were likely innocent and men with recognized mental disabilities. Oh, and we've had 14 inmates in the last five years alone die from the catastrophic heat in our prisons.
So, yeah, we like it when people like Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins stand up for the rights of the accused and inject a bit of humanity into a largely inhumane system.
That's why we were willing to give the benefit of the doubt — at first. We thought you might have just been doing your bit for justice.
Then we learned a bit more about the case — about the arguments the defense presented, which you apparently accepted, for placing the 16-year-old on probation — and you lost any amount of leeway you might have had with us.
The 16-year-old's defense team — and, yes, the fact that this kid had more than one lawyer by his side would have made us at least a little wary, but that's just us — argued that he didn't deserve to go to prison because his family was extremely wealthy. He couldn't be held fully responsible for driving his dad's pickup with a BAC of .24 and mowing down four victims because he had too easy of a childhood. Those lawyers even called an expert to the stand to give this horrible affliction a name: “Affluenza.”
What needed to be done, according to the defense lawyers, to right this horrible wrong? Well, the 16-year-old should be allowed to do a couple of months of rehab at a $450,000-a-year California facility in lieu of any time behind bars, they said. That way, he could get the intensive rehabilitation he needs.
We're reading this, thinking there's no way this argument could hold weight with any reasonable individual, and then what do we find out? That you bought it. That you agreed with the lawyers' belief that the way to fix the 16-year-old's too-permissive, too-privileged upbringing was to allow him to successfully avoid going to prison because of that same privilege and permissiveness.
That was a dumbfounding, tragic decision, Judge Boyd. And, as a result of it, we can't help but fear for one of the most basic of all American tenets — that we are all equal under the law.
As Eric Boyles, whose wife and daughter were killed in the crash, put it: “Ultimately today, I felt that money did prevail. If [he] had been any other youth, I feel like the circumstances would have been different.”
We agree. Wholeheartedly.
Way to disappoint the world, judge. Way to go, indeed.
Stephen Young and the rest of the Central Track staff