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Driving While Affluent: A Richly Unjust Defense

— September 1, 2016

Back in June of 2013, 16-year-old Ethan Couch killed four people after hitting them with his car when driving while intoxicated (presumably from the liquor he and his friends had stolen from a Walmart earlier that night.) At the time of the accident, he was speeding while driving illegally on a suspended license with a blood alcohol level that was three times the legal limit of .08. Two of his passengers received life-threatening injuries and a total of nine people were injured. Couch was charged with and found guilty of four counts of intoxication manslaughter. However, his defense and subsequent sentence sparked outrage because of its absurdity. Testifying on his behalf, psychologist Gary Miller claimed Couch suffered from “Affluenza” and therefore, shouldn’t be held accountable for his actions. His “disease,” as stated by Miller in court, was the result of growing up rich and spoiled. He claimed that because Couch had been given everything he ever wanted growing up by his wealthy parents, “he never learned that sometimes you don’t get your way. He had the cars and he had the money. He had freedoms that no young man would be able to handle.” The judge in his case, Judge Jean Hudson Boyd, agreed, sentencing him to just ten years probation.

As if his sentence wasn’t already a slap in the face to the loved ones of those he killed, as well as the countless people who have been detained for monumentally smaller offenses and, in some cases, handed a life sentence for them (see Fate Vincent Winslow, a homeless African-American man who was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for selling $20 worth of pot to an undercover police officer), Couch fled the country with his mother to avoid being charged with violating his probation after a video surfaced online showing him at a party where booze was being served. After a nationwide manhunt, he was detained by police at an expensive resort in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. In April of 2016, he was sentenced to two years behind bars, which equates to about 180 days for each person he killed, by Tarrant County Judge Wayne Salvant. On August 30th, Couch’s lawyers filed a motion to have him released from jail, claiming the judge in the case did not have the authority to lock him up.

Couch’s case was transferred to Judge Salvant from the juvenile system after he turned 19. His lawyers claim his case is no longer a criminal one but instead a civil issue since being transferred. The judge has placed a gag order on the motion, meaning no one involved in the case is allowed to speak publicly on the matter. However, the motion itself reads, in part, “All orders, judgments, conditions of probation and/or other decrees entered or imposed by this court are void and must be immediately rescinded.”

Ethan Couch after being detained in Puerto Vallarta; image courtesy of
Ethan Couch after being detained in Puerto Vallarta; image courtesy of

Seriously people, what is going on with our “justice” system? In what twisted, alternate, extraordinarily frightening universe are we living? Does anyone think for one second this miscreant deserves anything less than a lifetime behind bars? I can almost certainly guarantee he would finally be able to comprehend the fact that he can’t always get his way. Because isn’t that EXACTLY what he’s gotten so far? He’s too rich, so he doesn’t understand he can’t always get his way…so let’s go ahead and perpetuate that by giving him his way. Is this for real? What about the people who’s only crime was “driving while black?” Has that EVER been considered a reason to render a more lenient sentence? I thought justice was supposed to be blind?

Who knows how this case will end, but I could bet it won’t resemble anything close to actual justice. And that’s just maddening.


‘Affluenza’ teen Ethan Couch’s lawyers say judge had no authority to jail him

The Affluenza Defense: Judge Rules Rich Kid’s Rich Kid-ness Makes Him Not Liable for Deadly Drunk Driving Accident

Man Sentenced To Life in Prison For Selling $20 Worth of Weed

Attorneys for ‘Affluenza’ Teen Ethan Couch Ask To Have Him Released

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