In one of the most obvious signs of injustice, Ethan Couch will retain his freedom despite the fact that he killed four people and paralyzed another in a drunk-driving case.
Couch is described as a privileged 16-year-old boy from a wealthy family who avoided a 20-year prison sentence because the judge agreed with the defense’s argument that Couch needs treatment — for being spoiled.
The defense brought in a psychologist who claimed Couch suffers from “affluenza” which is defined as “the psychological malaise supposedly affecting wealthy young people, symptoms of which include a lack of motivation, feelings of guilt, and a sense of isolation.”
On June 15, 2013, Couch and his friends stole beer from a local Wal-Mart and proceeded to get drunk. Three hours later, Couch ran over three pedestrians who had just pulled over to help a woman whose car was broken down. All four people were killed.
Two of Couch’s friends, who were riding in bed of the teen’s pickup truck, were thrown from the vehicle. One is now completely paralyzed and can no longer speak. The other suffered extensive internal injuries. At the time of the crash, Couch’s blood alcohol content (B.A.C.) was 0.24, three times the legal limit of 0.08.
Perhaps even more disturbing, the very existence of affluenza is hotly debated and when it is discussed, it is done so as a behavioral economic theory related to populations of entire countries — not as an individual illness.
In fact, affluenza is not, nor has it ever, been listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).
A 2010 University of Georgia study found that affluenza is likely a social construct created to explain the “materialism, overspending, urgency, financial stress, and self-centeredness” that seems to be prominent in U.S. consumption patterns. According to the study, the addictive powers of consumption are low for Americans.
So even if the existence of affluenza was solid, it seems that the prosecutor’s decision to use it as a defense for Couch takes the phenomenon’s complexity out of context. Fort Worth newspaper the Star-Telegram reports the psychologist in the Couch case, Gary Miller, claimed the Texas teenager has the emotional capacity of a 12-year-old despite his higher-than-average intellect.
“The teen never learned to say that you’re sorry if you hurt someone,” said Miller. The paper goes on to say that Miller testified that Couch’s parents’ volatile relationship and materialism created a toxic environment in which Couch was left without proper nurturing.
So what’s the solution? Couch will be released directly into a private rehab facility in wealthy Newport Beach, California, that will cost his parents about $450,000 a year. Judge Jean Boyd ordered Couch to remain on probation for 10 years and explained that no sentence she could deliver would “lessen the amount of suffering” for the victims’ families.
Eric Boyles, who lost his wife Hollie and daughter Shelby, disagrees with the Couch verdict.
“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 one. We have accomplished nothing here. My healing process is out the window,” said Boyles to CNN’s Anderson Cooper.
About the author
Kat Robinson is a regular contributor for SheKnows and loves to connect women to all the latest news. She currently lives in Scottsdale, Arizona and is a 2010 Jack Kent Cooke Scholar. Follow her on Twitter @katrobinson1