Is “affluenza” real? Or is it just a convenient way for coddled children, and adolescents to evade consequences for their actions? For most people, conviction for vehicular manslaughter due to drunk driving warrants a lengthy sentence, but not in the case of Ethan Couch, a wealthy young man from the state of Texas.Recently attorneys for the Texas teen argued his “affluenza” meant he was blameless for drunk driving, and causing a fatal crash that left four people dead back in June. Couch, 16, claimed that his “condition” stemmed from having wealthy, privileged parents who never set limits for him. Judge Jean Boyd seemed to agree, sentencing him to a lenient 10 years of probation but no jail time, saying she would work to find him a long-term treatment facility.
Court testimony revealed that Couch’s blood alcohol level was three times the legal limit. He also admitted being drunk while driving and losing control of his Ford F-150.
“He never learned that sometimes you don’t get your way,” Gary Miller, a psychologist assigned to Couch said in court. “He had the cars and he had the money. He had freedoms that no young man would be able to handle.”
“This kid has been in a system that’s sick, if he goes to jail, that’s just another sick system”
He pleaded guilty to four counts of manslaughter by intoxication and two counts of assault by intoxication causing bodily injury. Two teens in the bed of the truck were seriously injured, and one cannot move or talk.
Judges in Texas are allowed to consider “diminished culpability and great prospects for reform” when a defendant is juvenile. According to the liberal political blog Think Progress, sentences for intoxicated manslaughter in Texas usually range between five and 15 years in prison.
Couch’s blood alcohol levels were three times the legal limit when he slammed at 70 miles per hour into four people trying to help a stranded motorist near Ft. Worth, the result of which was a crash scene that first responders likened to a plane crash.
It was reported that the teenager had several other prior run-ins with the law, none of which led to any consequences at home, a defense psychiatrist testified.“Money always seems to keep Ethan out of trouble,” Eric Boyles, who lost his wife and daughter in the crash, told the Dallas-Fort Worth Fox affiliate. “This was one time I did ask the court for justice and for money not to prevail.”
Judicial lenience has also been in the news lately, given the case of a Montana judge who in August gave a former teacher a 30-day jail sentence for the rape of a 14-year-old girl who subsequently killed herself.
In his testimony in the Couch case, the defense psychiatrist, Dr. G. Dick Miller, said Couch’s parents gave him whatever he wanted and gave him “freedoms no young person should have,” meaning that the teenager essentially raised himself.
“This kid has been in a system that’s sick,” Miller added. “If he goes to jail, that’s just another sick system.”
Now, the Couch family is facing $20 million worth of civil lawsuits resulting from the crash.
Couch’s family “felt that wealth bought privilege and there was no rational link between behavior and consequences.”
In another “Affluenza” case, prosecutors also in Texas, dropped a 2011 drunken driving citation against Wal-Mart Stores Inc. heiress Alice Walton. Walton was arrested on her 62nd birthday when was stopped at an Intestate in Parker County Texas for a traffic violation.
Texas Highway patrol Trooper Gary Rozzell said at the time: ‘Through an investigation at the scene, Walton was determined to be intoxicated during a field sobriety test.’
According to officials, the highway patrol officer who pulled over Walton, was suspended and therefore unable to testify, Walton’s attorney, Dee Kelly of Fort Worth, said the matter has been resolved without a formal charge being filed.
The decision not to send Couch to jail has sent shock waves around the nation, with many claiming he was only spared because of his family’s wealth.
Judge Jean Boyd has faced intense criticism and there have been calls for her to step down. Earlier today MailOnline reported that Judge Boyle has not always been so lenient when it comes to youth offenders.
Last year Judge Boyd sentenced a 14-year old African American boy to prison for ten years for killing one person with a powerful punch. The teenage suspect’s name was never made public since he was prosecuted as a juvenile.
Boyd is expected to retire next year, but a petition has been launched at change.org demanding that Texas Governor Rick Perry remove her from the bench immediately.
Is “Affluenza” Real? Or Does Money And Privilege Really Buy Justice