For most people, conviction for vehicular manslaughter due to drunk driving warrants a lengthy sentence, but not in the case of Ethan Couch, a wealthy young man from the state of Texas.
The Keller, Tex., 16-year-old has a rare condition that a judge believes is best remedied with anything but dealing with the consequences for causing a DWI wreck that killed four people, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported.
Couch suffers from “affluenza,” according to his lawyers, a term which means that his wealthy parents pretty much let him get away with everything. The defense saved him from a 20-year sentence; State District Judge Jean Boyd bought it at his sentencing on Tuesday and gave Couch probation instead.
“He never learned that sometimes you don’t get your way,” Gary Miller, a psychologist assigned to Couch said in court. “He had the cars and he had the money. He had freedoms that no young man would be able to handle.”
The defense said this led to a rash of irresponsible behavior on the night of June 15 and ended in tragedy. The spree began with Couch stealing beer from a Walmart with his buddies, jumping into a pickup truck and smashing into a woman whose car broke down on a Burleson, Texas road, killing the woman, two people who lived nearby and came to help, and a passerby.
Court testimony revealed that Couch’s blood alcohol level was three times the legal limit. He also admitted being drunk while driving and losing control of his Ford F-150.
He pleaded guilty to four counts of manslaughter by intoxication and two counts of assault by intoxication causing bodily injury. Two teens in the bed of the truck were seriously injured, and one cannot move or talk.
Texas sentencing guidelines for crimes like this call for fines of up to $10,000 and between 2 and 20 years in the state penitentiary. But instead Couch got 10 years of probation and zero time. If he slips up he could go to jail for 10 years, according to a statement from the Tarrant County District Attorney.
Defense attorney Scott Brown praised Boyd’s decision: “She fashioned a sentence that could have him under the thumb of the justice system for the next 10 years,” he said.
Eric Boyles, who lost his wife and daughter Holly and Shelby in the crash said it was Couch’s wealth that kept him from a harsher sentence.
“Ultimately today, I felt that money did prevail,” he told the Star-Telegram after the sentencing. “If [he] had been any other youth, I feel like the circumstances would have been different.”