The American justice took a huge step backwards yesterday. The events of the incident were not in dispute. Late in the evening of June 16, 2013 sixteen-year-old Ethan Couch piled seven friends into the cabin and bed of his red Ford F-350 pickup truck. Within 400-yards he had accelerated to 70 in a 40 mph speed zone. Ethan’s truck swerved off the road and plowed into two parked vehicles, a disabled motorist and three good Samaritans before it came to a stop. Four pedestrians were killed, and two people were tossed from the bed of Ethan’s pickup and severely injured. One is no longer able to move or talk because of a brain injury, while the other suffered internal injuries and broken bones.
Although it is illegal for teenagers to drink alcoholic beverages Ethan’s blood alcohol was three times the legal limit in Texas, Valium was found in his system. So in September prosecutors decided to charge Ethan with 4-counts of intoxication manslaughter and 2-counts of intoxication assault. They sought a determinate sentence of 20-years in prison through the juvenile court system so that Ethan wouldn’t be released from a juvenile detention facility and have his record expunged when he turned 21-years old.
Ethan’s trial defense was based on Affluenza: a lifestyle where wealth brought privilege and there were no consequences for bad behavior. In other words, Ethan wasn’t responsible for killing and maiming innocent people. Instead a circumstance created by his parents was responsible. Unbelievably, Judge Jean Boyd bought into the defense theory and sentenced Ethan Couch to 10 years’ probation, and at least two years of therapy and no contact with his parents. Ethan’s father has agreed to pay $450,000 so that the murderous teen can receive treatment at a posh Southern California treatment facility.
The families of the victims were correctly outraged by this travesty of justice. Eric Boyles, who lost his wife Hollie and 21-year-old daughter Shelby hit the nail on the head when he told the Fort Worth Star Telegram, “Money always seems to keep (Couch) out of trouble. Ultimately today, I felt that money did prevail. If (he) had been any other youth, I feel like the circumstances would have been different.”
24-year-old Breanna Mitchell’s family and the family of 43-year-old youth minister Brian Jennings will join Mr. Boyles in a lifetime of grief, regret, and broken hearts as they live with the reality that justice money and privilege over the lives of their dearly departed loved ones.
When high-profile killers purchase their freedom faith in the criminal justice system is undermined by a fear of retribution. When only nine percent of reported violent crimes are resolved with the perpetrator being incarcerated, criminal justice is perceived as justice for criminals. When this perception infects the majority of innocent people, the process is eroded by a reluctance to cooperate, which fosters still more criminal activity.