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A much better view than prison bars
A much better view than prison bars
(Image Source: Newport Academy)

Ethan Couch, a 16-year-old from Texas, stole beer from Wal-Mart, got drunk, and crashed his father’s company pickup into two parked vehicles.  Couch killed four people and injured nine.  One of the people Couch injured suffered such severe brain damage, he was left with blinking as his only form of communication.  But instead of facing prison time, Couch is reportedly spending time at the posh “rehab” facility shown in the photo above.

Couch has never denied that he was driving drunk that night, nor that he killed those people.  Instead, the defense argued that Couch grew up in a family that was dysfunctional, in part because of its wealth, and that he deserved therapy, not incarceration.

– Jessica Luther at The Guardian

Couch’s defense team calls psychologist G. Dick Miller, who testified that Couch suffered from “affluenza”.  Simply put, Couch’s defense team suggested his conduct – and his “condition” – stemmed from having wealthy, privileged parents who never set limits for him.  They convinced a soon-to-be-retired juvenile judge that this spoiled rich kid syndrome diminished Couch’s capacity to distinguish right from wrong.

So… if we get this straight, Couch suffered from “affluenza” – a condition stemming from his ridiculously affluent background in which money was used to buy-off those hurt by the rich and powerful and in which he lived in a consequence-free environment.  And now, because of this “disorder”, Couch’s “rich daddy” will pay $450,000/year for “treatment” at a deluxe spa-retreat-“treatment” center and Couch will continue to live in a consequence-free environment.

Gee… this kid thought that money could buy him out of pretty much any situation – what ever could have made him believe that??

The outrage sparked by this decision is real and it is warranted.  Justice was not done here.  A spoiled, rich kid got special treatment and a “get-out-of-jail-free” card that the rest of us would never have gotten.

Judges are human and they make mistakes as we all do.  Juvenile proceedings are particularly difficult, because the judicial system seeks to rehabilitate rather than punish children who make mistakes.  Here, though, the crime is so serious and the explanation of affluenza so transparently preposterous, the judge demeans the entire justice system by affording it any legitimacy.


Ethan Couch, his lawyer and his wealthy father should have been told that the cure for affluenza is a solid dose of state-inflicted poverty in a prison cell where Ethan Couch would learn that his money can’t buy justice.

– Paul Callan at CNN

Who knows why the judge made this decision.  Was it very good lawyering?  Was it very good experting?  Was money or wealth or power the overriding influence?  

To borrow a line from the movie, Liar Liar, “This is just wrong isn’t it?  I manipulated the system.  Just because you bought it doesn’t mean I’m right.  It’s a technicality.”

Whatever the reason, this judge – and justice – got duped.

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© Copyright 2013 Brett A. Emison

Follow @BrettEmison on Twitter.

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