Man interviewed on TV confesses to fatal DUI crash: “I drove because he was drunker”


From the NY Daily News:

A Los Angeles man confessed to a fatal drunk driving wreck as TV cameras rolled, telling the unsuspecting reporter he didn’t want to drive, but was forced to because his drinking buddy was more intoxicated.

“We were drinking. Record it,” the suspect, identified only as Jose, said as hewalked up to a FOX 11 news crew at the scene of the crash Monday.

“He was drunker!” Jose blurted out.

The accident early Monday killed Jose’s cousin Juan, who was riding in the passenger seat, officials said. Jose fled from the scene before he realized Juan was dead, and returned while the local news team was setting up their cameras.

Jose told the reporter that after a night on the town, Juan started to drive the pair home but stopped in the “middle of the freeway” and demanded Jose take the wheel.

“He was drunk already, and I told him I couldn’t drive, so he made me drive,” Jose told the reporter as cameras rolled. “And he made me drive, and I told him I couldn’t drive.”

Jose said after he started driving, he lost control of the car and slammed into a light pole. He left to go get help, he said, and found first-responders and the news team on the scene when he returned.

As he confessed the saga to the reporter, Jose — unaware the crash killed his cousin — asked how Juan was doing.

Police delivered the heartbreaking news, then gave Jose a field sobriety test and arrested him.

Click her to see the full story and video:

Tip of the hat to Springfield attorney Theodore Harvatin for posting this on social media, where I first saw this.


“Affluenza defense” generates controversy in TX DUI case

A lot of attention has been given to Texas Judge Jean Boyd, who sentenced Ethan Couch, 16 years old, to ten years probation for causing the deaths of four people while driving with a BAC three times the legal limit.

The defense attorney argued that the teenager’s parents had failed to properly raise their son.  He claimed that they had had an acrimonious divorce, did not spend sufficient time with him, teach him proper behavior, and gave him everything he ever wanted.  The defense attorney claimed that the boy suffered from “affluenza.”

From Slate:

According to police, Couch was going 70 miles-per-hour in his father’s Ford F-350 pickup in a 40 mph zone when he lost control and started a deadly chain of collisions that claimed the lives of: 24-year-old Breanna Mitchell, whose car had broken down on the side of the road; Hollie Boyles and her 21-year-old daughter Shelby, who lived nearby and had come outside to help Mitchell; and Brian Jennings, a youth pastor who was also playing the role of good samaritan. Two of the seven passengers riding in Couch’s truck were also seriously injured.

Earlier in the night, police say that several of the passengers were caught on camera stealing two cases of beer from a local Walmart. At the time of the crash, Couch had a blood alcohol content of 0.24, three times the legal limit for an adult, and also had traces of Valium in his system, according to police. He pleaded guilty last week to four counts of intoxication manslaughter and two counts of intoxication assault causing serious bodily injury.

From the Huffington Post:

The 16-year-old boy was sentenced Tuesday in a Fort Worth juvenile court to 10 years of probation after he confessed to intoxication manslaughter in the June 15 crash on a dark rural road.

Prosecutors had sought the maximum 20 years in state custody for the Keller teen, but his attorneys appealed to state District Judge Jean Boyd that the teenager needed rehabilitation not prison…

[Judge] Boyd said the programs available in the Texas juvenile justice system may not provide the kind of intensive therapy the teen could receive at a rehabilitation center near Newport Beach, Calif., that was suggested by his defense attorneys. The parents would pick up the tab for the center, at a cost of more than $450,000 a year for treatment.

Scott Brown, the boy’s lead defense attorney, said he could have been freed after two years if he had drawn the 20-year sentence.

But instead, the judge “fashioned a sentence that could have him under the thumb of the justice system for the next 10 years,” he told the Star-Telegram.

A psychologist called as an expert defense witness said the boy suffered from “affluenza,” growing up in a house where the parents were preoccupied with arguments that led to a divorce.

The father “does not have relationships, he takes hostages,” psychologist Gary Miller said, and the mother was indulgent. “Her mantra was that if it feels good, do it,” he said.

I am not surprised that this story has blown up, as the “affluenza defense” is the type of meme that generates controversy.  Of course, it is not truly a defense, it is an attempt to explain the boy’s behavior.

I am not fully convinced that “affluenza” is why the judge sentenced him to probation, in large part because it isn’t much of an excuse.  A person who grows up in a well-off home, with successful parents, should know right from wrong.

On the other hand, his age and lack of maturity may have swung the judge to consider probation.  What gets lost in the “affluenza” frenzy is the fact that recent scientific studies have shown that the teenage brain is still in development, and that the teenage mind does not weigh risks the same way that adults do.  In other words, the normal teenage brain, before adding alcohol into the equation, is already geared towards reckless behavior.  In this case, the teenager had a 0.24 BAC, meaning that his perception of the risks involved and the possible consequences were highly distorted.

Here is a link to the factors in mitigation that a judge in Illinois has to consider when sentencing a criminal defendant.  They include:  the defendant’s mental state, whether he or she was under a disability, whether the crime was intended, the defendant’s character and whether the crime is likely to be committed again. Did this defendant have the capability to fully appreciate the consequences of his actions?

In Illinois, this defendant would be facing the possibility of from six to 28 years in the penitentiary, and probation could only be given in “exceptional circumstances.”  I don’t think affluenza would merit those exceptional circumstances, though possibly his age would.  More likely in Illinois he would receive a sentence in the 8 to 12 year range.

What do you think is the appropriate sentence?

Women are catching up to men … in getting DUIs

From today’s Chicago Tribune:

Research shows that while the number of male drivers arrested for DUI has declined since 1995, the number of female drivers arrested has been rising.

In 2011, the latest year for which FBI statistics are available, DUIs by female drivers accounted for nearly 25 percent of all DUI arrests, compared with about 10 percent in the early 1980s.

My client base reflects similar percentages.  My guess for the increase is only that, a guess, and it really isn’t anything different from the guesses that are contained in the article, which are:

  • women today are more likely to go out on their own or to go to bars or restaurants and drink with their friends.  Even in the recent past, when they were going out to a bar, they were more likely to go with a male escort who was usually the driver;
  • women are working more hours which often leads to binge drinking on the one night of the week or month when they can go out and have fun;
  • more restaurants and bars that cater to or are more appealing to women;
  • the reduction in the “legal limit” from 0.10 to 0.08 may have resulted in more female DUIs, because women tend to drink less than men; and
  • the increased use of prescription medications which can affect one’s driving, either when taken alone or in combination with alcohol.

What do you think?


Some thoughts about the Highland Park tragedy

On Labor Day afternoon, a five year old girl was killed, and her mother and two brothers were injured, when an 18 year old motorist named Carly Rousso drove up on a sidewalk in downtown Highland Park.

According to reports, Rousso displayed signs of impairment and she was issued a misdemeanor citation for DUI.  After that, blood and urine samples were taken.  Toxicology results have not been released, and more serious charges could be filed.

Today, it was leaked in the Chicago Tribune that Ms. Rousso may have been inhaling from a gas cannister immediately before the crash.  Other possible intoxicants have been alleged in the comments section of the Highland Park Patch by people who claim to know Ms. Rousso.  Some of these people commenting on the Patch message board state other unflattering things about Ms. Rousso which I will let you find for yourself.

A few thoughts:

  • There have been questions raised by the public about why Ms. Rousso either was not initially charged, or (as it was later reported) she was charged, but only with a misdemeanor, allowing her to be released on her own recognizance and without being placed on any special restrictions.  Some of the explanations given by Highland Park police for this do not make sense to me.
  • First of all, when someone is involved in a fatal accident, they are required under Illinois law to provide a blood and/or urine sample.  So the remarks of the Deputy Chief of Police stating that the filing of a misdemeanor charge was a prerequisite to a blood or urine test was wrong.
  • Second, the Deputy Chief stated that they were waiting for toxicology results before filing charges because there was a double jeopardy concern that Ms. Rousso could plead guilty to a lesser charge, thereby preventing a more serious prosecution.  Again, this is wrong.  The State could file a felony complaint, request that a judge set a high bond (with restrictions on movement or home monitoring and urine testing if she made bail), and continue the matter while waiting for toxicology results.  No judge would accept a misdemeanor plea while a more serious charge was pending.
  • The only reason to wait for a toxicology result is because under Illinois law, it is easier to prove a DUI death case when there is narcotics in the blood or urine, because in such a case the prosecutor does not need to prove either impairment or that the impairment was the proximate cause of the fatal accident.  Even still, it is hard to see how a felony charge could not have been filed based on the evidence (as reported) that Ms. Rousso had driven in an extremely erratic manner before the accident, and was falling over while speaking to officers.  This would be enough to initiate a felony charge, and additional felony counts could have been added later when the toxicology results were available.
  • According to some of the comments on the Patch site, Ms. Rousso’s twitter account is @CarlyRousso.  I do not know for sure if this is truly her account, but if it is, a two year old tweet calling herself “the best drunk driver in drivers ed class” is not the type of thing any defense attorney would like to see.
  • The Highland Park Mayor should not be politicizing a criminal investigation and prosecution.  Shame on her for aggravating the situation and encouraging the police to act before they are ready.  It is bad enough that family members of the victim and others are accusing Highland Park Police of racism without any evidence.  Mayors should be calming the situation, not making it worse.
  • People on the internet, it is fine to comment on the situation.  But publishing this young lady’s home address, phone number, vacation photos and writing about her behavior in high school is not right.  You are putting her at danger.  Two wrongs do not make a right.  If she is guilty, she is facing a sentence of at least 4 to 12 years.  Even if you don’t care about her, you are endangering her other family members.  And please remember that every person in this country is presumed innocent until proven guilty.  There may be an explanation or other side to this story that we do not know about.  Do not jump to conclusions until you have heard all of the facts.

The tweet:

Best drunk driver in drivers ed class. I’m proud to present your designated drunk driver

Does the Media sensationalize DUI stories?

Here is a letter to the editor that I think is worth reading, written by Jacob Martin, a graduate student at the the University of Georgia.  He sent the letter to the school’s student newspaper, The Red and Black.  In it, he questioned how the paper has been reporting its DUI stories.

Mr. Martin wonders whether the tendency to underline the sometimes goofy things people do or say while intoxicated tends to needlessly embarrass the arrestee as well as diminish the seriousness of the offense.

The article can be read here:  Sensationalist DUI reporting has consequences

What do you think?

This was brought to my attention by Springfield attorney Theodore Harvatin.