Texas already has some of the harshest drunk driving laws in the country, and now, lawmakers have taken it one step further. Governor Greg Abbott recently signed a law that requires drunk drivers who cause a crash that kills a parent to pay child support until the surviving child (or children) turn 18 or graduate high school.
The new law takes effect on September 1, 2023.
In this article, Board Certified Criminal Defense Lawyer Benson Varghese explains the new law, the legislative intent behind it, and how civil restitution (in addition to criminal punishment) applies to a defendant convicted of intoxication manslaughter in the death of a parent in Texas.
Mandatory Restitution for Child of Victim of Intoxication Manslaughter
Beginning September 1, 2023, anyone convicted of intoxication manslaughter in Texas will be required to pay monthly child support if they caused a crash that resulted in the death of a parent with minor children. The new law – passed in the 88th Texas legislative session as House Bill 393 – amends Chapter 42 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure by adding Section 42.9375 titled: “Mandatory Restitution for Child of Victim of Intoxication.”
This statute states that:
- The court shall order a defendant convicted of intoxication manslaughter to pay monthly restitution for a child whose parent or guardian was killed until the child reaches age 18 or has graduated from high school, whichever is later.
- The defendant is not required to pay restitution to an individual who is 19 years or older.
- The court shall determine the amount of restitution based on what is reasonable and necessary to support the child after considering all relevant factors including:
- the financial needs and resources of the child;
- the surviving parent or guardian or other current guardian of the child or, if applicable, the financial resources of the state if the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) has been appointed as a temporary or permanent managing conservator of the child;
- the standard of living to which the child is accustomed;
- the physical and emotional condition of the child and his or her educational needs;
- the child’s physical and legal custody arrangments;
- the reasonable work-related child care expenses of the surviving parent or guardian or other current guardian if applicable; and
- the financial resources of the defendant.
- If the defendant is unable to pay due to incarceration, he or she shall begin payments within one year of being released in a payment plan agreed by the court. The state has the authority to remit these payments.
Bentley’s Law: The Legislative Intent
Texas’ new child support intoxication manslaughter law is also referred to as “Bentley’s Law.” Like a lot of legislation, it stemmed out of a tragedy, which attracted nationwide attention. On April 13, 2021, a mother, father, and their 4-year-old son were killed in a drunk driving fatality in Missouri. They left behind two other sons, Bentley and Mason, who went to live with their grandmother, Cecilia Williams.
Over the next two years, the grandmother advocated for a law that would mandate drunk drivers, when convicted of causing the death of a parent, to provide child support to the surviving underage children.
In 2022, Tennessee became the first state to pass “Bentley’s Law.” Since then, more than a dozen states have introduced “Bentley’s Law” or are drafting this legislation. The Texas version of the law was signed in June and takes effect on Sept. 1, 2023.
The Criminal Punishment for Intoxication Manslaughter in Texas
Under the new Texas law, drunk drivers must pay child support if convicted of killing a parent – a punishment that is civil in nature. But the defendant will also face harsh criminal penalties that could include prison time, fines, and collateral consequences that will follow them for life.
In Texas, intoxication manslaughter is a second-degree felony punishable by 2 to 20 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine. Again, child support would be in addition to whatever criminal penalty is imposed
Additionally, if more than one person is killed in a drunk driving crash, the defendant could face multiple counts – one for each death. For example, if two people were killed and a jury sentenced the defendant to 20 years on each case, the defendant could be sentenced to 40 years in prison if the judge decided to “stack” the sentences. Alternatively, the judge could also run both sentences concurrently at the same time, which is common in Tarrant and Dallas counties.
Having said that, it’s also important to point out that it’s possible for a defendant to be sentenced to probation in an intoxication manslaughter case. However, if probation is given, it is usually for 10 years, and the defendant will be subject to numerous stringent conditions of probation, including refraining from alcohol use, performing community service, completing classes, and reporting regularly to a probation officer. Any violation of probation could result in up to a 20-year prison sentence.
Please take a moment to watch this video about intoxication manslaughter charges in Texas by North Texas attorney Benson Varghese, who is highly adept at handling all types of intoxication crimes.
Accused of Intoxication Manslaughter? Contact Us.
Intoxication manslaughter cases are extremely difficult for everyone involved – in part, because the defendant never intended to kill anyone but nevertheless left a wake of destruction and grief that will last a lifetime.
If you or a loved one has been accused of intoxication manslaughter in North Texas, it’s imperative to retain an experienced defense attorney who has vast experience handling these complex and highly emotional charges. At Varghese Summersett, we have successfully defended numerous intoxication manslaughter cases and understand the toll these cases have on families and individuals.
We tailor a defense strategy that aligns with the unique circumstances of each case. Beyond just legal representation, we offer guidance, reputation management, and a path forward during one of life’s most challenging moments. Call 817-203-2220 for a free consultation with an experienced intoxication manslaughter lawyer today. We serve Fort Worth, Dallas and the surrounding areas.