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When Justice Fails
Posted by Charles Esslinger on Dec 20th, 2013

At this point, pretty much everyone has heard about Ethan Couch – he's the 16-year-old kid from Keller, Texas that was spared a prison sentence for his role in the drunk driving deaths of four pedestrians. For some reason, the presiding judge in Couch's case, District Judge Jean Boyd, went out of her way to protect the affluent teen, claiming he was simply a product of his environment. In the media, his “condition” has been termed “affluenza,” which, in reality, is just a blatant coverup for an irresponsible family.

For those who aren't familiar with the case, here's what happened: While driving his Ford F-350, with as many as seven passengers, Couch slammed into Breanna Mitchell, 24, who was on the side of the road with her broken down car. Brian Jennings, 43, Shelby Boyles, 21, and Hollie Boyles, 52, who had all came to assist Mitchell with her car, were also struck by Couch's truck.

During testimony, it was discovered that the teen had a blood alcohol level 0.24 at the time of the crash. That level, which is three times the legal limit for adults, is particularly high considering that Couch isn't even able to legally drink. According to law enforcement, Couch and his friends were seen on surveillance video stealing two cases of beer from a store prior to the tragic crash.

Although prosecutors sought the maximum sentence for Couch, 20 years in state custody, the teen's lawyers had different ideas. Couch's attorneys somehow convinced Judge Boyd to send the teen to a rehabilitation program instead of prison. At the end of the day, he received a slap on the wrist and was sentenced to just 10 years of probation. According to Judge Boyd, the the teen would be better suited in a rehabilitation center in Newport Beach, CA, which his own lawyers suggested, than in a juvenile detention center in Texas. Apparently, Couch's parents will be picking up the tab for their son's treatment, which is expected to cost $450,000 a year.

Scott Brown, who served as Couch's lead attorney, said the sentence his client received will end up doing more good than prison would. According to Brown, Couch would have been freed after two years if he received the 20-year sentence. Instead, by giving him probation, the judge “fashioned a sentence that could have him under the thumb of the justice system for the next 10 years.”

Unsurprisingly, most people have found fault with both Scott Brown and Judge Boyd's reasoning, or lack thereof. Prosecutor Richard Alpert said that as long as Couch is able to be cushioned by his family's wealth, another tragedy will be inevitable. “There can be no doubt that he will be in another courthouse one day blaming the lenient treatment he received here,” Alpert said.

For the family of the victims, Couch's sentence wasn't only unjust, it was outrageous. Eric Boyles, who lost his wife and daughter, said it was obvious that the teen's wealthy family was able to buy their way out of trouble. “Money always seems to keep you out of trouble,” Boyles said. “Ultimately today, I felt that money did prevail. If you had been any other youth, I feel like the circumstances would have been different.”

As for the “affluenza” defense, most psychologists aren't buying it. Dr. Suniya Luthar, a psychologist and professor at Columbia University in New York, says studies have shown that 20% of upper-middle class adolescents believe their parents can get them out of bad situations. This sentence only serves to reinforce those beliefs.

“What is the likelihood if this was an African-American, inner-city kid that grew up in a violent neighborhood to a single mother who is addicted to crack and he was caught two or three times … what is the likelihood that the judge would excuse his behavior and let him off because of how he was raised?” Luthar asked. “We are setting a double standard for the rich and poor. This is a very, very dangerous thing we're telling our children.”


Sources:

Huffington Post - http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/12/affluenza-defense-probation-for-deadly-dwi_n_4430807.html

USA Today - http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/12/12/affluenza-dwi-dui-texas/3999487/

ABC News - http://abcnews.go.com/US/affluenza-dui-case-prosecutors-put-teen-bars/story?id=21259169