Many states have enacted laws to redress unusually ugly outcomes of crimes involving children. The Texas legislature has now joined these states by passing House Bill 393, now known familiarly as “Bentley’s Law.”
The law aims to increase penalties for drivers whose drunken driving results in the death of parents leaving their children with no economic support.
A summary of Bentley’s Law
The law, which has been signed by Gov. Abbott, applies to any person convicted of intoxication manslaughter. A person who is convicted of causing one or more fatalities due to driving while intoxicated is subject to imprisonment for 2-20 years.
Bentley’s Law imposes an additional penalty if the defendant’s drunk driving caused the death of one or both parents of a child who is now left with no economic support. The new law allows the judge to impose an obligation on the defendant to pay restitution in the form of child support to the victim’s minor children until they reach the age of 18.
A payment plan
If the defendant cannot pay because they have been imprisoned, the court can set up a payment plan for the balance owed, commencing one year after the defendant has been released from prison.
The new law becomes effective on September 1 and will not apply to crimes committed prior the effective date.
Factors considered by the judge
In imposing the additional penalties permitted by Bentley’s Law, the judge may consider the child’s financial and educational needs, their physical and emotional condition, the standard of living to which the child enjoyed prior to the parent’s death, and the financial resources of the defendant.
The obligation to pay continues until the surviving child reaches the age of 18 or graduates from high school.
Despite the seemingly automatic nature of the penalties prescribed by Bentley’s Law, the trial judge has substantial discretion to shape the additional penalties.