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Rich Teen Who Killed Four While Drunk Given Probation

Outrage over a slap on the wrist for the unremorseful Ethan Couch underscores the age-old story of how the wealthy are treated differently in our justice system than the rest of us.

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By Allison McCabe

12/13/13

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On the night of June 15, 2013, a highly intoxicated 16 year old named Ethan Couch plowed his truck into four people on a road in Burleson, TX and killed all four. Two other teenagers were critically injured in the crash when they were thrown from the back of Couch's truck. One remains paralyzed and communicates by blinking his eyes. With his blood alcohol level three times the legal limit, Couch pleaded guilty to four counts of intoxication manslaughter and two counts of intoxication assault causing serious bodily injury.

Surely such a horrific crime carries severe punishment. According to state sentencing guidelines, if you’re convicted of drunk driving and killing four people in Texas, you have to pay a fine of up to $10,000 and spend between two and 20 years in state prison. But if you come from a wealthy family like Ethan Couch, you're instead sentenced to 10 years probation, no prison time, and a stay in a $450,000 per year treatment center in Newport Beach, CA.

What possible defense could have gotten Ethan such a light sentence?  “Affluenza.”

Dr. G. Dick Miller, a psychologist for the defense, said that Couch suffered from affluenza, a condition that supposedly results from growing up in an affluent home where there is little-to-no parental supervision. Miller said that there were no consequences for Ethan’s negative behavior growing up, and gave as an example that a 15-year-old Couch received no punishment after he was caught by police in a parked truck with a naked and unconscious 14-year-old girl. “He never learned that sometimes you don’t get your way,” said Miller. “He had the cars and he had the money. He had freedoms that no young man would be able to handle.”

We don’t know why Judge Jean Boyd chose to give Crouch probation instead of the 20 years in prison sought by the prosecution. But she must have believed at least part of the defense’s claim that Ethan’s family’s wealth, combined with the volatile relationship between his parents, was sufficient in explaining Couch's behavior that night. Eric Boyles, whose wife and daughter were among those killed, was stunned and distraught by the verdict. "For twenty-five weeks, I've been going through a healing process. And so when the verdict came out, I mean, my immediate reaction is -- I'm back to week one. We have accomplished nothing here. My healing process is out the window," he said.

Ethan Crouch’s alleged affluenza bought him a light sentence and a luxury rehab. Will he learn anything from the death and destruction he caused? Mike Hashimoto of the Dallas Morning News thinks not: "Despite all the death in his wake, Couch didn’t learn a thing he didn’t already know: It’s far better to come from that wealthy place where actions seldom have those nasty old consequences. That’s for other folks."

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