Sixteen-year-old Ethan Couch is a rich brat who should be sitting in a Texas prison for driving drunk and killing four pedestrians.
But he’s not. Today, Couch is free to walk the streets, perhaps drink alcohol if he feels like it – and maybe even drive a car again one day.
Poor Ethan Couch suffers from “affluenza,” according to one psychologist, a preposterous social condition that suggests wealthy young adults have a sense of entitlement and explain away bad behavior because their spoiled upbringing makes it impossible for them to distinguish right from wrong.
It’s a complete sham, most sane people agree, but one misguided judge decided that Couch does have “affluenza” and ruled that Couch will serve 10 years of probation instead of jail.
The “affluenza” court argument is not only one of the most ridiculous debates in judicial history, but it sets a dangerous precedent for the legal system moving forward.
How many more rich white young adults will get into serious trouble – possibly kill someone else – and blame their spoiled lifestyles on “affluenza” for their crimes?
When did it become socially acceptable – and legally permissible — to kill someone and not take responsibility for the crime because of a wealthy background?
The grieving relatives of the four people that Couch killed are understandably outraged and are suing Couch’s wealthy family.
Eric Boyles lost his wife Hollie, 52, and daughter Shelby, 21, in the crash. The Boyles family is seeking $1 million in damages from the brat, his father and the family’s business. Sergio Molina, 16, was thrown from the back of Ethan Couch’s truck and is now paralyzed and unable to speak. His family is seeking the highest compensation of the five — a $20 million payout.
“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.
The term “affluenza” was created in the late 1990s by Jessie O’Neill, the granddaughter of a past president of General Motors, when she wrote the book “The Golden Ghetto: The Psychology of Affluence.”
But other legal experts correctly testified that “affluenza” is not is not a recognized diagnosis and should not be used to justify bad behavior.
Couch was pumped with liquor and Valium and lost control of his speeding Ford F-350 pickup when he crashed into a broken-down car. But I guess that wasn’t enough to convince the court of his criminal behavior.
District Judge Jean Boyd issued his sentence after Couch “admitted his guilt.” And Couch’s parents say they will pay for a $450,000-a-year treatment and rehabilitation center near Newport Beach, Calif.
For Couch, life on easy street continues.
But Texas prosecutors are trying again to put Couch behind bars after he was sentenced last week to 10 years’ probation. Tarrant County District Attorney Joe Shannon is asking a juvenile judge to put 16-year-old Ethan Couch in jail on two cases of intoxication assault that he says are still pending before the court.
“During his recent trial, the 16-year-old admitted his guilt in four cases of intoxication manslaughter and two cases of intoxication assault,” Shannon told reporters. “There has been no verdict formally entered in the two intoxication assault cases. Every case deserves a verdict.”
Dr. Gary Buffone, a Jacksonville, Fla., psychologist who does family wealth advising, told reporters that Couch must take responsibility for his behavior.
“The simple term would be spoiled brat,” Buffone said.
“Essentially what he (the judge) has done is slapped this child on the wrist for what is obviously a very serious offense which he would be responsible for in any other situation,” Buffone said. “The defense is laughable, the disposition is horrifying … not only haven’t the parents set any consequences, but it’s being reinforced by the judge’s actions.”
Buffone is right.
I only hope that “affluenza” doesn’t begin to spread through wealthy suburban communities like a virus.