Friday, December 13, 2013

Teen avoids jail with affluence defense in deadly drunk-driving case - primed for a career as a banker ?

Teen who killed four people in drunk-driving accident gets probation due to … “affluenza”


I saw something about “affluenza” on Twitter yesterday and ignored it, assuming it was a portmanteau coined by Salon or Slate for an article about income inequality that the left had collectively decided was clever. Today I googled it and realized why people are talking about it. Friendly advice: If you’re planning on drinking tonight, go ahead and start before you watch the clips. Trust me.
Simple solution here: If the kid can’t function in society because mommy and daddy spoiled him to the point of degeneracy, make them serve his time. At a bare minimum, charge them with child abuse. That’s what the “affluenza” defense is, after all — it’s a plea for mercy in the sentencing stage on the theory that the havoc wreaked by the defendant would never have happened if he hadn’t been victimized as a child himself. Whether the abuse occurred through acts of commission or omission should make no difference. If mom and dad instilled a “no limits” mindset in li’l Ethan so deeply that he can’t be held fully blameworthy for getting drunk and killing four people, then we have a case here involving a grievous injury done to a child. Someone must pay.
If there’s any justice in this world — and there isn’t, as you’re about to see — the victims will bankrupt them with wrongful death suits. The ask right now is $20 million. Beyond that, the lesson for parents (wealthy parents, at least — the poor are screwed here, as usual) is to work hard at turning your child into the most privileged, entitled A-hole possible. If you fail and he somehow turns out to be a decent person and then ends up running someone over, well, then he might have to do time.

Teen avoids jail with affluence defense in deadly drunk-driving case

by   December 12, 2013 4:09PM ET
Legal experts say ruling is symbolic of larger problems in criminal justice system
Law & Justice

ethan couch

Ethan Couch, a 16-year-old convicted over the deaths of four people in a drunk driving accident, arrives at Juvenile Court on Tuesday.
A Texas teenager who killed four people while driving drunk was sentenced this week to 10 years’ probation in lieu of jail time, after the defense argued that the 16-year-old was a product of "affluenza" — a condition in which growing up wealthy prevents children from understanding the links between their behaviors and the consequences, because they are rarely held accountable for their actions.
The judge's light sentence has outraged the families of the victims and baffled some legal experts.
Ethan Couch was tried as a juvenile and charged with four counts of intoxication manslaughter for the June 15 crash, according to a local Texas ABC affiliate. Youth pastor Brian Jennings, 24-year-old Breanna Mitchel, and mother and daughter Hollie and Shelby Boyles were killed in the crash. Several others were injured.
Couch was driving 60-70 mph in a 40-mph zone and had a blood alcohol content of .24, three times the legal limit in Texas. Testimony indicated that toxicology reports also found Valium in his system, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram newspaper.
Intoxication manslaughter is a second-degree felony in Texas and usually carries a sentence of between two and 20 years in prison.
The lenient sentence, issued Tuesday, disappointed the victims’ families. Eric Boyles, who lost his wife and daughter, told The Associated Press that Couch's family’s wealth helped him avoid jail. “Ultimately today, I felt that money did prevail. If you had been any other youth, I feel like the circumstances would have been different.”
Couch’s defense argued that he should not be jailed for 20 years because he suffered from so-called “affluenza.” Dr. G. Dick Miller, a psychologist who testified on Couch’s behalf, argued that Couch was a product of a lifestyle in which wealth brought privilege and he had faced no consequences for his bad behavior.
WFAA ABC reported that Miller said the teen’s parents gave him “freedoms no young person should have.”
As an example, the psychologist cited an instance in which Couch, then 15, was caught in a parked vehicle with a passed-out and undressed 14-year-old girl. Couch was never punished for his behavior, the psychologist said.
Judge Jean Boyd of the Fort Worth juvenile court agreed with the defense, and decided that probation and therapy would be the best course of action, according to the Star-Telegram.
The paper reported that the judge said that she was familiar with programs available in the Texas juvenile justice system, and that Couch might not get the kind of intensive therapy in a state-run program that he could receive at the California facility suggested by his attorneys.
Couch's father will pay $450,000 a year for his son to live in a small, private home in California, where he will receive intensive one-on-one therapy.
Scott Brown, Couch’s lead lawyer, said Couch could have been freed after only two years, even if he received the full 20-year sentence. Instead, the judge "fashioned a sentence that could have him under the thumb of the justice system for the next 10 years," Brown told the Star-Telegram.
Some legal experts questioned the light sentence, calling it symbolic of larger failings in the criminal justice system.
“I think it's the most absurd outcome I've ever heard of, and that's in a system that is already absurdly imbalanced.  It makes a mockery of equality and equal standing before the law,” Patricia J. Williams, professor of law at Columbia University, told Al Jazeera.
 “This is the same sort of thinking that allows rich prisoners to buy more comfortable jail cells as they are able to do in parts of California. Or that pathologizes and profiles not just the problems of the poor individually but entire races and neighborhoods and age groups — as in young black men — while turning richer, whiter, more educated bad actors as well as celebrities into romantic outlaws,” she said.
Barry Krisberg, a senior fellow at UC Berkeley Law School, told Al Jazeera that while there are factors that mitigate criminal liability – such as mental illness, age and developmental disabilities – economic status is not one of them. "It just doesn't make sense. The notion that because someone is wealthy, we shouldn't hold them accountable is nutty."
Al Jazeera approached the Texas Juvenile Justice Department for comment, but the agency would not comment on the case.
Shaunna Jennings, the pastor's widow, said her family had forgiven the teen but believed a sterner punishment was needed.
”You lived a life of privilege and entitlement, and my prayer is that it does not get you out of this," she said. "My fear is that it will get you out of this.”