A DUI case in Fort Worth, Texas has stirred up national media attention for a second time in three months. On June 15, 2013, Ethan Couch was driving drunk and under the influence of drugs when he struck and killed four people. Accompanied by several passengers, Couch was speeding at 70mph in an area with a posted speed limit of 40. A little further down the road, a small group of people were on the shoulder, trying to assist at the scene of an accident. Due to his intoxication, Couch drove into the group killing four people and injuring another two passengers in his own vehicle. Couch was charged with four counts of Intoxication Manslaughter and two counts of Intoxication Assault.
Authorities found that Couch’s blood alcohol content level at the time of the accident was 0.24 percent, three times the legal limit for adults. In Texas, minors can be criminally charged for driving with any amount of alcohol in their system. During the trial, Couch admitted to driving while intoxicated, and admitted to striking the four victims with his truck. What may have otherwise appeared to be a tragic but fairly straightforward case quickly became controversial due to a unique defense and what critics call an incredibly lax sentence.
Couch’s lawyer claimed that he did not know that what he was doing was wrong due to “affluenza.” Essentially, the defense claimed that Couch could not understand the consequences of his drunk driving, because he had never been taught responsibility, due to his family’s extraordinary wealth. That is, because Couch had grown up so wealthy, he had never learned responsibility, and that his actions would have consequences. Confused? So are critics who discredit this defense.
Though prosecutors sought the maximum for a juvenile on these charges, 20 years imprisonment, Judge Jean Boyd handed down a sentence of just 10 years of probation for the Intoxication Manslaughter. Given the incredible outcry against the light sentence, prosecutors are seeking jail time for the Intoxication Assaults. Two of the victims were passengers in the truck bed, and were severely injured in the accident. After the initial sentencing, prosecutors sought a jail sentence for the injuries Couch caused due to his drunk driving. However, during a February 5th hearing, Judge Boyd again declined to sentence Couch to jail. Couch has been ordered to spend an unspecified amount of time receiving treatment at a private rehabilitation facility. However, it seems like Couch’s legal woes are far from over. The victims’ families are all suing Couch.
Critics of the defense claim that it creates a new legal precedent that will allow wealthy defendants to avoid jail time for serious offenses. These critics claim that the opposite of “affluenza” does not apply. Extremely poor offenders would not be able to blame the way they were raised and therefore avoid harsh sentences. One such critic, Dr. Suniya Luthar, specializes in the effects of affluence in suburban communities. She claims that the result of Couch’s trial is a dangerous precedent and states, “We are setting a double standard for the rich and poor . . . [telling] families that have money, you can drink and drive. This is a very, very dangerous thing we’re telling our children.”
Since first reporting on this story, the never before seen deposition has been released giving details of the fatal crash and Couch’s upbringing. Click here for more from ABC News.
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