Although Couch’s case was handled in juvenile court, he has been identified publicly by the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office.
One legal expert said he had never even heard of “affluenza.”
“The concept that I did something because I’m rich and spoiled doesn’t look like a good causation,” Richard Segura, a supervising attorney at the University of Texas at Austin’s Criminal Defense Clinic, told the AP. “It doesn’t sound like something that would ameliorate the punishment.”
On the other hand, he said, the defense attorney would have likely looked at all the facts in the case and tailored them in a way that he thought would best influence the judge’s decision. In addition, the judge likely factored in rehabilitation, restitution and other factors when sentencing Couch, Segura said.
Dr. Suniya Luthar, a psychologist who specializes in the costs of affluence in suburban communities, said her research at Columbia University in New York has shown that 20 percent of upper middle-class adolescents believe their parents would help them get out of a sticky situation at school, such as being caught for the third time on campus with a bottle of vodka. Boyd’s sentence reinforces that belief.
“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,” she added, noting the message is “families that have money, you can drink and drive. This is a very, very dangerous thing we’re telling our children.”
Authorities said the teen and friends were seen on surveillance video stealing two cases of beer from a store. He had seven passengers in his Ford F-350, was speeding and had a blood-alcohol level three times the legal limit, according to trial testimony. His truck slammed into the four pedestrians, killing Brian Jennings, 43, Breanna Mitchell, 24, Shelby Boyles, 21, and her mother, Hollie Boyles, 52.
Scott Brown, Couch’s lead defense attorney, said the teenager could have been freed after two years if he had drawn the 20-year sentence. Instead, the judge “fashioned a sentence that could have him under the thumb of the justice system for the next 10 years,” he told the Star-Telegram.