Is Affluenza a decent defense?

DUI car crash

Usually when someone kills four people and injures two others, they would be staring at four blank walls and bars for a very long time.  However, in Ethan Couch’s case, he got off with only ten years of probation.

Sixteen-year-old Ethan Couch lives in a wealthy community in the state of Texas. One night, Ethan Couch was driving home from a high school party with his friends in the car. His friends supposedly had stolen cases of beer from Walmart and were drinking in the vehicle. Suddenly, Couch lost control of his speed and slammed his truck into four pedestrians, killing them instantly. In addition, Couch flew into a parked car and than spun into a car that was coming from the opposite direction. The impact caused two of his friends to be tossed out of the truck’s bed causing serious injuries among them. Police state that Couch was speeding 30 mph over the speed limit, swerving everywhere. Additionally, the toxicology report proved that his blood alcohol level actually registered three times above the legal limit at 0.24.

During the trial, Couch’s defense claimed that he was suffering from “affluenza”, a psychological disease that affects wealthy young people. Affluenza is caused when rich parents never set limits for their children. Symptoms of affluenza include lack of motivation, guilt, and a sense of isolation. Prosecutors said that affluenza was a scam and they fought for Couch to be charged with murder, along with a maximum of 20 years in prison.  During the accident, innocent bystanders were killed. In addition, both of his friends, who were tossed out of the truck’s bed, are now lying in the hospital critically injured. One is no longer able to move or talk because of a brain injury, while the other suffers internal injuries and broken bones. One would think that, after almost killing two of his friends, Couch would have enough remorse to apologize and willingly accept all consequences. The final court decision was not what the public was hoping for. Couch ended up being sentenced to only 10 years probation and a stint in rehab, funded by his parents.

The details of this case bring to the surface many different emotions and feelings. When it was presented to Donna Piscotta, who has been an attorney for over 24 years, she had quite a bit to say. “Affluenza was not a defense crime when I studied criminal law. There had to be something more behind that defense. But from an attorney’s view, in order to be found guilty, he’d have to have the “mental state” and “intent” to commit the crime. The attorney argued to the courts that Ethan had no mental state to do such a thing because he was so sheltered and entitled. By these reasons the court gave him probation for his negligent acts,” she stated when asked if she thought affluenza was an appropriate defense.

A mother, Virginia Lev, was interviewed on her thoughts about affluenza and the legitimacy of the defense. She says, “No I don’t think that just because he is wealthy that he should be let off easy. He killed four other people. How can you not be punished for that? Those poor families must be devastated. I know if something like that happened to my kid I would want justice.”

A couple weeks after this tragedy struck, some new information was revealed. The same judge, just a few years prior, sentenced a 14-year-old African-American child. This 14-year-old killed a boy by punching him to death. The African-American child got a 10-year sentence and got sent to a juvenile justice facility. A case of racism? The controversy begins. Donna Piscotta said, “Justice is blind, but of course those factors come into play unfortunately. We’re not an evolved enough society yet.”

By age sixteen, teenagers usually can tell what’s right from wrong. They still make numbers of endless mistakes, but they know that killing four people is totally not okay. The justice system has to hold to a consistent standard if someone breaks the law. Serious and predictable consequences, that money can’t change, must be applied to all. A student herself, Rebecca Pini, was shocked by the case and said, “This justice system is terrible if that kid can get away with all that destruction. I am 16 and I still know not to do any of the stupid things he ended up doing.” Ethan Couch got a very little sentence for what might be a very long sentence for others.