The internet is ablaze with outrage after an affluent Texan teen is given a lenient sentence following a drunken joy ride and the vehicular manslaughter of four people. 16-year-old Ethan Couch was driving three times over the legal alcohol limit for an adult when he lost control over the pickup truck and crashed into pedestrians, killing four people and seriously injuring two passengers. Couch was sentenced Tuesday in a Fort Worth juvenile court to ten years of probation due to the June 15 crash.
Authorities said Couch and friends were viewed on surveillance video stealing two cases of beer from a local Walmart. Couch had seven passengers in his Ford F-350 pickup, was speeding at 70 miles per hour in a 40 mile per hour zone and had a blood-alcohol level of .24 and Valium in his system, according to testimony during the trial. His pickup truck slammed into the four pedestrians, killing Brian Jennings, a 43-year-old youth minister; Breanna Mitchell, 24; Shelby Boyles, 21; and her 52-year-old mother, Hollie Boyles. They were changing a tire on the side of the road.
Prosecutors sought the maximum 20 years in state custody but Couch’s attorneys appealed to state District Judge Jean Boyd that the teenager needed rehabilitation not prison.
Couch’s lawyers stated that he suffers from “affluenza,” a term which meant that he has an innate inability to make good decisions based on a lifetime of being coddled by wealthy parents who let him get away with everything. A psychologist called as an expert defense witness said the boy suffered from “affluenza,” growing up in a house where the parents were preoccupied with fighting and divorce. The psychologist, Gary Miller, stated that Couch’s father “does not have relationships, he takes hostages,” and the mother was indulgent. “Her mantra was that if it feels good, do it,” testified Miller, and that the teen enjoyed “freedoms no young person should have.”
The defense saved Couch from the 20-year sentence after State District Judge Jean Boyd agreed with this reasoning, giving Couch probation instead. Couch will likely receive treatment at a high-end rehab facility in Newport Beach, Calif., on his parent’s tab. The program would cost over $450,000 a year, as reported by the Huffington Post. Judge Boyd said that the programs available in the Texas juvenile justice system would not provide the kind of intensive therapy the teen could receive in the Calif. rehabilitation center suggested by his defense attorneys.
The victim’s families are stunned and drew little comfort from the sentence. Eric Boyles, the husband and father of two of the victims, said the Couch family’s wealth helped the teen avoid incarceration. “Money always seems to keep you out of trouble,” Boyles said. “Ultimately today, I felt that the money did prevail. If you had been any other youth, I feel like the circumstances would have been different.”
In addition to the families outrage, newspapers, websites and social media outlets have been filled with people shocked and dismayed by the sentencing. Commenters, Twitter users, editors and televised news personalities alike are coming out and stating their disapproval and disgust. Nancy Grace exclaimed, “Straight probation! He doesn’t even have to pick up trash! Nothing! Not one night in jail!”
Couch and his parents face at least five lawsuits claiming millions in damages from the victims’ families. Cleburne Sheet Metal is also named in the lawsuits, for owning the truck that Couch was permitted to drive.
Judge Boyd has not yet released a statement explaining her reasoning for the lenient sentence but she has already announced that she will not run for re-election when her term ends next year.
This really is a travesty and the Judge should be ashamed for falling for this. The rehab center looks like a spa in the gorgeous Californian hills and the lesson Couch will learn is that money can solve any problem. This little slap on the wrist most certainly does not fit the crime here. His actions were thoughtless and downright idiotic. Four people are dead and others are injured. I am seriously disgusted.