16-year-old’s sentence is hard for all

12/11/2013 5:27 PM

11/12/2014 4:18 PM

Prosecutors, victims’ family members and apparently a lot of other people were disappointed Tuesday when a Keller 16-year-old was sentenced to 10 years’ probation for driving drunk and causing collisions that killed four people and critically injured two others in June.

To them, the punishment doesn’t match the crime. The teen, whose blood-alcohol level measured three times the legal limit the night of June 15 after the wreck on Burleson-Retta Road, pleaded guilty to four counts of intoxication manslaughter and two counts of intoxication assault causing serious bodily injury.

All that disappointment is understandable. Still, a judgment that it was wrong misses the point of the Texas juvenile justice system.

That system is built not on punishment but on taking account of an offender’s age, offering a chance at rehabilitation and a productive life.

This case is tragic for all involved. What seemed to make it worse for some was that the teen’s parents are wealthy, and he’s led a privileged life.

His parents offered to pay for long-term treatment at a facility near Newport Beach, Calif., that can cost more than $450,000 a year.

“Money always seems to keep [the teen] out of trouble,” Eric Boyles, whose wife and daughter were killed in the wreck, said after District Judge Jean Boyd delivered the sentence. “Ultimately today, I felt that money did prevail. If [he] had been any other youth, I feel like the circumstances would have been different.”

Mike Hashimoto an editorial writer for The Dallas Morning News, concluded on the newspaper’s website that Boyd “did pretty much what his parents had always done, which is let him skate.”

The teen, Hashimoto wrote, “didn’t learn a thing he didn’t already know: It’s far better to come from that wealthy place where actions seldom have those nasty old consequences. That’s for other folks.”

Emotional language, and well put. But it fails to take into account all of the circumstances of the case.

And it fails to take into account Boyd’s 26 years of experience in the juvenile justice system, first as a prosecutor, then as an associate judge and for the past 19 years as the top judge on Tarrant County’s juvenile court.

Her years on the bench have been filled with tough cases, the worst felonies and most troubled juvenile offenders this large urban county has to offer.

She’s rendered judgments on these tough cases time after time — and Tarrant County voters have continued to re-elect her.

Boyd did not choose to run again and will leave office when her current term ends a year from now.

Ignore for now rehabilitation on which Texas has built its juvenile justice system. Look at the law under which prosecutors sought a 20-year sentence for this teen.

That’s called a “determinate sentence” for juvenile offenders, something the Legislature added to the law in 1987 and has revised several times since.

Intoxication manslaughter is one of the serious offenses that qualify for a determinate sentence.

The law says offenders sent to one of the state’s juvenile facilities can be kept there only until their 19th birthday.

Then they must be sent to an adult prison or back to adult parole supervision in their home counties.

In court on Tuesday, Boyd said her experience tells her some offenders never get the kind of therapy they need from the programs in Texas juvenile justice facilities.

State figures show that 73 percent of the juveniles released from those facilities are back or are arrested again as adults within three years.

For this teen, Boyd opted for treatment followed by years of supervision.

None among those who say she was wrong have sat in her chair for 26 years. In this case, she’s earned our trust.

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