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Dewhurst Seeks Study on Intoxication Manslaughter Sentences

In his latest interim charge for lawmakers, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst has directed the Senate Criminal Justice Committee to study sentencing in cases of intoxication manslaughter.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst explains the gallery rules for the second special session as Senate Parliamentarian Karina Davis listens on July 1, 2013.

In his latest interim charge, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst on Thursday directed the Senate Criminal Justice Committee to study sentencing in cases of intoxication manslaughter.

"Having lost my own father to a drunk driver in my youth, I have a particular interest in this issue because I know the devastation it causes," Dewhurst, who is currently seeking re-election, said in a press release. "I am wholeheartedly committed to the safety of our citizens and believe that recent cases indicate existing sentencing options may leave justice undone." 

Dewhurst directed the committee to focus on cases in which adults and juvenile offenders convicted of intoxication manslaughter were not imprisoned and were instead granted probation charges, stressing the need for recommendations that detail appropriate punishment.

Intoxication manslaughter is a second-degree felony in Texas and is punishable by two to 20 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine, according to the Texas Penal Code, but some offenders are granted probation. Dewhurst's charges come on the heels of the recent controversial sentencing of North Texas teenager Ethan Couch, who received a 10-year probation sentence after killing four pedestrians while driving drunk.

The case has already come up in the governor's race. Attorney General Greg Abbott, a Republican gubernatorial candidate, said he instructed his office to look into Couch's probation sentence to determine whether it can be appealed. Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth called the judge's decision a "disgrace" and said the matter should be studied from "a legislative perspective."

Dewhurst also charged the committee with making additional recommendations to ensure that intoxication manslaughter sentences maintain public safety and deter driving while intoxicated.

"The decision to drive under the influence is the cause of entirely too much pain, injury and death in Texas," Dewhurst said. "As with any crime in Texas, we must ensure justice is served."

Dewhurst has recently mentioned his father's death while on the campaign trail and in a new online ad. He's expected to announce additional interim charges in the coming weeks.

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Criminal justice David Dewhurst Texas Legislature