Affluenza Defense: Teen gets 10 years probation for driving drunk, killing 4

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(CNN) — To families of the victims, Ethan Couch was a killer on the road, a drunken teenage driver who caused a crash that left four people dead.

To the defense, the youth is himself a victim — of “affluenza,” according to one psychologist — the product of wealthy, privileged parents who never set limits for the boy.

To a judge, who sentenced Couch to 10 years’ probation but no jail time, he’s a defendant in need of treatment.

The decision disappointed prosecutors and stunned victims’ family members, who say they feel that Couch got off too easy. Prosecutors had asked for the maximum of 20 years behind bars.

“Let’s face it … There needs to be some justice here,” Eric Boyles, who lost his wife and daughter, told CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 on Wednesday night.

“For 25 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 1. We have accomplished nothing here. My healing process is out the window,” he said.

Lawyers for Couch, 16, had argued that the teen’s parents should share a part of the blame for the crash because they never set limits for the boy and gave him everything he wanted.

According to CNN affiliate WFAA, a psychologist called by the defense described Couch as a product of “affluenza.”

He reportedly testified that the teen’s family felt wealth bought privilege, and that Couch’s life could be turned around with one to two years of treatment and no contact with his parents.

Couch was sentenced by a juvenile court judge on Tuesday. If he violates the terms of his probation, he could face up to 10 years of incarceration, according to a statement from the Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney’s Office.

Judge Jean Boyd told the court she would not release Couch to his parents, but would work to find the teen a long-term treatment facility.

“There are absolutely no consequences for what occurred that day,” said Boyles. “The primary message has to absolutely be that money and privilege can’t buy justice in this country.”

His wife, Hollie Boyles, and daughter, Shelby, left their home to help Breanna Mitchell, whose SUV had broken down. Brian Jennings, a youth pastor, was driving past and also stopped to help.

All four were killed when the teen’s pickup plowed into the pedestrians. Couch’s vehicle also struck a parked car, which then slid into another vehicle driving in the opposite direction.

Two people riding in the bed of the teen’s pickup were tossed in the crash and severely injured.

One is no longer able to move or talk because of a brain injury, while the other suffered internal injuries and broken bones.

“There is nothing the judge could have done to lessen the suffering for any of those families,” said defense attorney Scott Brown, CNN affiliate KTVT reported.

“(The judge) fashioned a sentence that is going to keep Ethan under the thumb of the justice system for the next 10 years,” he said. “And if Ethan doesn’t do what he’s supposed to do, if he has one misstep at all, then this judge, or an adult judge when he’s transferred, can then incarcerate him.”

Earlier on the night of the accident, June 15, Couch and some friends had stolen beer from a local Wal-Mart. Three hours after the crash, tests showed he had a blood alcohol content of 0.24, three times the legal limit, according to the district attorney’s office.

“We are disappointed by the punishment assessed but have no power under the law to change or overturn it,” said Assistant District Attorney Richard Alpert. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and we regret that this outcome has added to the pain and suffering they have endured.”

By Dana Ford

CNN’s Monte Plott and Vivian Kuo contributed to this report.

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8 comments

  • ByeByeToTheRite

    The ENTIRE justice system in America today – ever since Ronald “Vegetable” Reagan staged the coup that took over America for the extreme right and the wealthy they stand for – is stricken with “affluenza disease”. Look at Zimmerman. Look at Ferguson. Look at that Kennedy cousin. All have “affluenza”. This little punk AND his partents ought to be in prison for this. This creep and his arrogant parents are getting off easier than a guy who got caught twice having two beers at a DWI roadblock, who never hurt anybody or anything. Killed FOUR drunk, yet no jail time? .24 after three hours? And those MADD fanatics still want to lock up folks who blow .08? All nothing but a sick, cruel joke – as is the entire American justice system today, hijacked by the rich and privileged. How can anybody still call America the “best country in the world”? MOST other civilized Western societies would not TOLERATE this, but then again they also have universal nationalized health insurance and pensions, and don’t hand out welfare to the wealthy, so they just be FAR FAR more enlightened and ahead of us on the curve of humanity.

  • Nicole

    Why should he be any better than any other teen. Who has no rich parents. He should be treated the same as everyone else. Because he is no better than any one else who Drinks and Drive. If you are old enought to due the crime. You are old enought to do the time.

  • Jon

    This is a very sad story. I will be praying for their families. Taking lives from someone, I’m sure the kid feels horrible. A wake up call to say the least. Everyone has done stupid things when they were a teenager. It was an accident that was non-intentional. Was’t there a jury there to make the ruling.

    • bob

      Yes, a wakeup call for him…..AND aton of goodbye forever call for family of the dead victims…..YES, weve all done stupid stuff when we were teens…NOT KILLING PEOPLE….big difference….sheeesh

  • Rod Kirkland

    The families affected by the “poor” child’s actions should sue the pants off the parents as they are obviously guilty of causing the accident by spoiling the little twerp. No amount should be criticized as being too much.

  • lisa robben

    This is BULL SHIT, so à poor jud with à crack addict mother with no father who commets à crime should get off to cause no guadance, nit spoiled but no guudance in life just instinct.

  • Sarah Warren

    Not only should this kid have a normal sentence, but the parents should be subject to fines and probations. Because obviously, they were at fault too. But this kid killed 4 people and and destroyed the lives of many others, either to injury or loss of parents and family. Any adult who would have done the same thing would be in jail for a few decades.

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