On June 15, 2013, on a rural road near Fort Worth, Texas, a wealthy 16-year-old was driving his friends around in his dad’s Ford pickup truck. Earlier in the evening, they had stolen some beer from a local Walmart and the 16-year-old was driving with three times the legal blood alcohol limit when he plowed into three people helping a young woman whose SUV had broken down. The woman who owned the SUV, plus the three people who had come to her aid, all died. Two of the 16-year-old’s friends were tossed from the bed of the truck; one is paralyzed and one suffered broken bones and internal injuries. For information on the legal BAL and DUIs, contact your Denver auto accident attorney.
The 16-year-old, Ethan Couch, was not unknown to the local authorities. Couch, the son of an incredibly wealthy family and prominent business owner, had been driving himself to and from school since he was 13, with everyone–including evidently the local police–looking the other way. At 15, he was caught in a parked pickup truck with a naked 14-year-old girl–who was passed out; again, the local authorities looked the other way. But with four deaths and two people seriously injured–one permanently–the authorities finally decided that even wealth had its limits: Couch pleaded guilty to four counts of intoxication manslaughter and two counts of intoxication assault causing serious bodily injury. The prosecution asked the Judge for a 20-year sentence.
The sentence handed down by the Juvenile Court Judge stunned not just the parties involved, but also the country. Ethan Couch received 10 years probation; he will spend the next 2 years (or until he is an adult) out of the custody of his parents and in a rehabilitation facility, receiving treatment paid for by his parents. He is to have no contact with his parents for this two-year period since the Judge determined that his parents were equally responsible for Ethan’s inability to accept consequences for his actions. This inability was discussed at Couch’s hearing as “Affluenza,” a term popularized in the 1990s to describe wealthy kids with a sense of entitlement who do not accept responsibility for their actions.
Critics argue that in attempting to correct “Affluenza,” the sentence perpetuates it because Couch is spending two years in a high-priced rehab center rather than a Juvenile Detention facility. Others respond that when he leaves rehab at 18, the lengthy probation period will mean that one misstep or one violation of the terms of his probation will land him in an adult prison for the remainder of the probation term. For a more in-depth understanding of DUI cases involving minors, consult your Denver auto accident attorney at Levine Law today.
Agree or disagree with it, one thing is clear: “Affluenza” is not a defense available to the masses, and for that reason alone it is controversial. In a forum where everyone is supposed to be treated equally, the criminal justice system appears to be offering different options for the wealthy than for everyone else. At least one of the victims has found a way for some alternative justice: the family of the boy who is paralyzed has sued the Couch family and business for 20 million dollars to cover the future medical expenses and care of their son. The families of other victims may follow with wrongful death lawsuits, hoping that civil lawsuits can accomplish some of what the criminal justice system failed to do: attach consequences for Ethan Couch’s actions.