(I normally do not write pieces like this, and I expect most Americans will have heard about this case, but it is such an outrage that I must say something.)
That money can buy one better justice is a commonplace in our society. If you are poor and accused of a crime, you will be assigned a public defender, who is almost by definition not a top notch attorney and is probably overwhelmed by his case load. Even a middle income defendant can find his family bankrupted by attorney’s fees in a long or complex trial. But if you are wealthy, you can hire teams of high profile lawyers and pay for exhaustive research and expert witnesses. The Simpson trial immediately springs to mind, though the incompetence of the chief prosecutor played a role in his acquittal.
But the case of Ethan Couch is simply beyond belief in its mobilization of wealth. Couch is a sixteen year old (fifteen at the time of the crime, I believe) directly responsible for the deaths of four people. He and some friends stole beer from a convenience store and took off in a pickup truck for a drunken joy ride. Speeding along a road in what can only be called a drunken stupor, Couch smashed into a disabled car on the shoulder. The car owner, Breanna Mitchell, Hollie Boyles and her daughter Shelby, who had come to help, and Brian Jennings, a passerby who had stopped, were instantly killed. The parked car was driven into another vehicle, injuring more people, and two drunken friends were thrown from the truck bed and severely injured.
Couch’s family is wealthy, which meant they could hire a high powered legal team, which is hardly atypical. What is certainly not typical is the argument offered by the defense, which could not deny that their client was an underage thief with three times the legal limit of alcohol in his bloodstream and the blood of four innocents on his hands. They argued that the boy’s parents were in fact to blame because they had indulged their son and never set any limits on his behavior, and raised in such an environment he could not really be held responsible for his behavior. A psychiatrist, the sort of expert witness money could find and purchase, supported this incredible idea, even supplying a cute little name: “affluenza.”
Desperate attorneys are known for coming up with outlandish defenses, but this one boggles the mind. But even more mind boggling is the fact that juvenile court judge Jean Boyd accepted this nonsense. Couch was of course found guilty, but the judge sentenced him to ten years of probation and rehabilitation for alcohol abuse. He would be kept from his family and thus treated for affluenza, and she was careful to point out that the probation would be very strict and any misstep would lead to jail time. I expect she is already getting death threats.
What a beginning to his cure! He has now learned in the most dramatic way imaginable that there are indeed no limits, and he is free to kill people with no meaningful consequences. Society of course learns nothing new, but we are reminded that money can in fact buy almost anything and that you had better pray that your wife and daughter are killed by a poor drunk. Poor people of course have a natural immunity to affluenza. If there ever was an occasion to use the word “travesty” in connection with our justice system, this is certainly it.
I abhor vigilantism, but were the victims my family members, I would seriously consider finding the little creep and causing him a great deal of pain. I would then be sentenced to jail time. That’s how justice is supposed to work.