Texas teen gets probation for deadly DWI collision with ‘affluenza’ defense

Ethan Couch (Photo credit: WFAA video clip via CNN)

Ethan Couch (Photo credit: WFAA video clip via CNN)

TEXAS — Victims’ families are angry and speaking out after a judge sentenced a teenager in Texas to 10 years’ probation for driving drunk and causing a crash that left two people severely injured and four others dead.

“Let’s face it … There needs to be some justice here,” Eric Boyles, who lost his wife and daughter, told CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 on Wednesday night.

“For 25 weeks, I’ve been going through a healing process. And so when the verdict came out, I mean, my immediate reaction is — I’m back to Week 1. We have accomplished nothing here. My healing process is out the window,” he said.

Lawyers for Ethan Couch, 16, had argued that the teen’s parents should share a part of the blame for the crash because they never set limits for the boy and gave him everything he wanted.

According to CNN affiliate WFAA, a psychologist called by the defense described Couch as a product of “affluenza.”

He reportedly testified that the teen’s family felt wealth bought privilege, and that Couch’s life could be turned around with one to two years of treatment and no contact with his parents.

Couch was sentenced by a juvenile court judge on Tuesday. If he violates the terms of his probation, he could face up to 10 years of incarceration, according to a statement from the Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney’s Office.

Judge Jean Boyd told the court she would not release Couch to his parents, but would work to find the teen a long-term treatment facility.

The sentence stunned victims’ family members, who say they feel that Couch basically got away with murder. Prosecutors had asked for the maximum of 20 years behind bars.

“There are absolutely no consequences for what occurred that day. The primary message has to absolutely be that money and privilege can’t buy justice in this country,” said Boyles.

His wife, Hollie Boyles, and daughter, Shelby, left their home to help Breanna Mitchell, whose SUV had broken down. Brian Jennings, a youth pastor, was driving past and also stopped to help.

All four were killed when the teen’s pickup plowed into the pedestrians. Couch’s vehicle also struck a parked car, which then slid into another vehicle driving in the opposite direction.

Two people riding in the bed of the teen’s pickup were tossed in the crash 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.

“There is nothing the judge could have done to lessen the suffering for any of those families,” said defense attorney Scott Brown, CNN affiliate KTVT reported.

“(The judge) fashioned a sentence that is going to keep Ethan under the thumb of the justice system for the next 10 years,” he said. “And if Ethan doesn’t do what he’s supposed to do, if he has one misstep at all, then this judge, or an adult judge when he’s transferred, can then incarcerate him.”

Earlier on the night of the accident, June 15, Couch and some friends had stolen beer from a local Wal-Mart. Three hours after the crash, tests showed he had a blood alcohol content of 0.24, three times the legal limit, according to the district attorney’s office.

“We are disappointed by the punishment assessed but have no power under the law to change or overturn it. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and we regret that this outcome has added to the pain and suffering they have endured,” said Assistant District Attorney Richard Alpert.

44 comments

  • Mark Stabler

    So the courts are saying that the Parents are responsible because they gave the killer everything he ever wanted. Since that legal decision has already been made then each and everyone of the vicitim and their families should be able to sue the parents for everything they are worth and put them in the poor house without any trouble. I bet those same lawyers that represented this young killer, will argue the parents don’t have any financial responsibility. Make me sick.

    • Linda

      I am very angry .with this problem , I. know .why .they said money .is the rule .of evel because it .even make .the .law blind , I say .that .becase I. had a. brother that got. kill .by a .drunkin .driver before chrismas and. thats still. on. my .mine how can a person live with their .self knowing .they .kill .someone .or .better .yet .how .do .the. law and .the .people .definding them .live .with .their .self, what if it. was the .law family .got kill. like that, would they give him .ten .years or .what .if. the .young men .was black would they .have. give .him .10yr or life .in .prison. or. maybe. even death, this world .is ful of. evil and. when. somebody kill .somebody .I .don,t care .what. age .or .color .they .are .they need to. be .punish , the .law. just .letting .drunk. drivers kill .people everyday and .the .courthouse. is. letting .them .go .like. they .serve .this .country well, we .have. no. help .in. this .world .people are .taking .from older people and taking away from young people. who .try. to .go. to school instead .of drinking boos istead .of people fighting .in the .whitehouse they .need to .be. savig lives and the future

      • Shauna

        Tony, maybe she is distraught because this brought the emotions of her own personal tragedy and the lack of justice in this world back to the surface for her. Please have compassion.

    • angel leigh

      I agree. Some judges seem to hand out sentences that don’t make any since. They have the thinking that they can do anything. And they can. Who is going to stop them???? Not us the normal people..

    • Randy Jessup

      I agree Mark we need to start holding parents responsible for the juvenile behavior if the juvenile is not tried as an adult. No more getting off scott free from your responsibility as a parent.

  • ace

    Appalling and disgraceful all around. Both the idiot judge and this spoiled entitled brat should be thrown in jail together. My condolences to those good Samaritans who lost their lives merely conditiontrying to help others. And even labeling this jerk as having an actual condition other than being a rich dbag is almost just as horrid.

  • miracle

    I totally disagree. People are so quick to blame the parents but you could have the best parents in the world and still end up like that. People are added by learned behaviors derived from their parents AND external stimuli. In the end this boy is an individual with a fully developed conscience and subconscious which means that he would have done what e ever he liked anyways (he is a teenager) a persons persona or personality should not weigh so heavily on the parents. He knew right from wrong, they just have him the opportunity to learn the consequences for himself instead of setting forth outrageous standards that would push him to rebellion. Either way the results could have been the same. Sometimes you don’t realize the pressures we put on kids to perform morally. That is where you adults go wrong at and you are surprised when things go awry. Yes, there should be accountability and balance but on the end we are all human and when left to or own devices where your parents can no longer control you then you deal with what you’ve been given and what you are equipped for. Even i know that and I’m 16. Stop being so one demensional.

    • Keith

      You obviously don’t have children, if you did you would realize that, that kid is 100% a product of his parents. Sure he has his own choices, but where is he getting those choices from, his parents! I without a doubt would do anything to get my child off in this case because everything he would do would be my fault, I’m the one raising and helping transform this person to do what I feel is the right thing. If they don’t it all falls back on me period.

      • aaron

        Keith, sounds to me like your worried more about your image than anything else. You left a comment saying you obviously dont have kids. It seems lile ypu do and the only reason something like this wou ll d bother you is because it would make you look like a sad weak parent with your peers. Sad sad sad. They talk about the parents of that kid, but look at this guy. Worried more about his own image than the overall maturing of a human life, whether it be down the right path or wrong. Instead of making you look like an allstar dad, make yourself one. Worry about your kids, and not your own personal image!

      • Teresa

        At what point does the child take responsibility?! How many people does he/she need to kill before he/she is held responsible? Maybe you would only want him/her held responsible if it would have been one of your family members that was killed? This is nothing more than entitled people getting away with murder! First the parents let him get away with whatever he wants to and now the courts are letting him get away with murder! DISGUSTING JUDGE & JUSTICE SYSTEM!

    • Janice MacKenzie

      Kill four people and severely injure two more? Yeah, regardless of bad or good parenting, regardless of intent, you should get jail-time. Your freedom needs to be taken away while you contemplate the consequences of your actions. Your parents can visit you in prison, and so can your counselor.

    • R. Stovall

      That you are 16 is obvious. As a nurse, I know your brain hasn’t fully developed or you would be able to figure out that the kid got OFF based on his parents poor parenting. Therefore, at the very least, his parents should be in jail for these vehicular homicides – and the kid should also. None of them have any values – and the value of other lives doesn’t phase them or their lawyers. What an American disgrace. The judge should be removed from his seat.

  • Jeanette Upright

    Three times over the limit, underage drinking, stealing beer & killing four people and he get 10 years probation? That doesn’t make any sense. I understand the judge’s point-of-view; however, the judge was wrong not to have given him any jail time, along with probation! On the other hand, I can almost guarantee that this child will end up in jail for violating his probation (VOP). Ten years is a long time to be monitored by the state. Plus, if you look at statistics, it shows that the majority of inmates are in prison for just that (VOP). All we have to do is sit back & wait.

    As for suing the parents. Depending upon the circumstances, There have been cases where the parents were held responsible. Laws are changing, for example in MD in order to tend bar, a person has to be certified. Now, if this person serves drinks to someone, and that person leaves the bar & gets into an accident, the business and server can be held accountable & sued.

    The parents do play a role, in that they probably did give this child anything & everything he wanted. Financially, his parents were able to obtain the best lawyers to defend this child (which is why he got off).

    I don’t feel that money was an issue (other than what I stated above), the real issue is parental guidance, in a era where parents are afraid to discipline their children, for fear of being charged with abuse.

    • Martie

      I agree 100% with you Jeanette. Parental guidance, or lack thereof if a big issue today. Parents are worried about being their friend or not making their kids angry. If our kids don’t experience disappointments and know that they do not get everything they want, how can we expect them to successfully deal with life? As we all know, life has disappointments and let downs. Give them the gift of truly knowing how to deal with the real world by showing them the real world and not allowing them to grow up in a fantasy land where they get everything they want and they have no limits. Also, teaching our children WHY it’s important to do or not do certain things is so very important too because it helps develop their sense of empathy and compassion
      and instills a conscience. For example, these parents could have taught their son that he shouldn’t drink and drive because of the consequences of his actions such as: he could hurt or even kill someone or himself. As opposed to saying to him, “don’t drink and drive because I said so.” This is what I call “bully” parenting. It may work for a little while, but often if brings results out of fear not from a sense of wanting to do the right things for the right reasons. Isn’t that what our job is as parents? To develop and mold the best character in our children possible? We ARE responsible for the person they grow up to be. That’s a fact, no way around it.

    • mary

      i agree. now lets take it one step further. the parents are bad bc they didnt hold the son to accountability. what does that make the judge. this judge should have used this situation to say the accountability starts NOW and we are going to use you as an example for all the other affluent kids in the u.s. prime opportunity missed. hold the parents accountable, hold the judge accountable, hold the kid accountable.

  • gracie rodriguez

    Its unjustified and I am sorry for all the losses but remember God is a just God. The bible says you reap what you sow. I couldn’t image the pain the families are feel or begin to understand but leave it to God. Its in his time not ours.

  • 4usall

    Rich children are exempt from the laws. Rich people go to treatment facilities, while poor people go to prison. It’s no different than 3rd World Countries.

  • Kelly

    Basically the judge treated him the same way his parents do…just a slap on the hand for such a horrible crime. When are people going to stop blaming their actions on their childhood. It only becomes a problem if you can’t get over it and move on. My dad abused my mom, My mom let me drive to the store when I was 14, I drank when I was 16 (but today I despise alcohol), I was a parent at 15 and guess what……I am fine because I don’t dwell on my past nor do I use it as an excuse. I have a job that pays WELL and my daughter is very successful as well (we both work in the medical field). AT 16 you know right from wrong and you also know how to be manipulative. I would say this young man is very good at manipulation and his parents money is probably what got him a light sentence.

  • Stephanie

    Just further goes to show that money does buy privilege in our “justice” system…. The more money you (or your parents) pay for the lawyer, the “better” the excuse…. This is truly sad and I pray for the families of the victims……

  • steve

    They should throw the judge and the defense attorney in jail for even thinking of using such a stupid defense, afflunza (really) give me a break. So if the kid had no money he goes to jail for 20 years. this is so messed up it is not even funny.

  • sinnerfrank

    This would be a great case for John Edwards to get back into the public eye !! I would not care if the whole family would end up living under a bridge!! Just not near my place !!

  • dave bowen

    This is for Tony. A persons ability to spell has nothing to do with such a serious subject. How can you be so petty? you must be rich. Truth is,if that kid came from a poor or middle class family,they would have crucified him on the courthouse steps,and rightfully so.

  • Niki

    So this brat killer stole beer, got drunk, killed and destroyed life, and he gets off easy because he got everything he ever wanted his whole life. This is showing him that with money he can still get away with anything, and that because he has money he is more important than anyone else.

  • Meg

    God bless the victim’s families. I believe he got off 100% here. Do I blame the parents ummm no not really. I blame the teen. At 16 you know common sense, you know right from wrong… point blank period! I was adopted and my parents are the best BUT genetics plays a huge role with any child. I rebelled like crazy just like my biological mother did as a teen. My parents were strict but not overly strict and I still was determined to do what I wanted. I was stubborn and hard headed. When I was 16 my parents told me … we will not stand behind you and support you if you go get into trouble and hurt or kill someone because of your dumb decisions or actions. And they meant it. It took a few years but I grew out of my craziness and making dumb decisions. And now as a parent myself I make sure my kids know right from wrong even at a young age. I am not your friend, I am your mother!!!!! So no I don’t think parents should be held responsible because this kid knew what he was doing and he should have gotten jail time!!!! But I believe that one day he will have to face the Man above and answer to him… that is the ultimate trial! Prayers going up for the victims and their families!

  • DD

    If it would have been a little black boy they would have buried him under the jail. This how you know that money they got paid that judge…..the whole thing is bull shit that boy should of got life with out the chance for parole

  • Gonzo

    The legal distinction for murder, which everyone seems keen to pile upon him, is that the guilty party intended to kill. This was wholly irresponsible behavior that had horrific consequences, but it was not the same as murder. Manslaughter has a wide range of sentencing options, because the actions that lead to manslaughter vary. There have been manslaughter convictions for people who merely had the misfortune of being the first driver that an idiot child jumping out of bushes by the roadside happened to jump out in front of. Then there are incidents like this.

    In truth, someone guilty of manslaughter due to drunk driving has committed the exact same crime as someone who just got drunk and drove. Read that again – if you drank and drove, and got home safely, you are still just as much of a blight on society as this child. The difference is, we as a society expect “something” to be done when dangerous behavior results in negative consequences, but we’re usually ok with people getting away with it when nothing bad happens.

    This sentence isn’t uncommon for manslaughter, even for poor individuals. I know of a specific instance in which a commercial driver whose license was already revoked when he committed manslaughter, yet he got off with probation and a permanent injunction against driving. The purpose of justice is NOT to make the victim’s family feel better. It is NOT to “get even” with the perpetrator. It is also NOT to make people on the internet happy. Justice is the fair penalization for wrongdoing. Compare his sentence with another minor who stole alcohol and drove drunk. This “affluenza” argument is insane, but the ruling is not “getting away with murder”.

  • Sharon Jenkins

    If he had done it in Alamance County I am sure our DA and our Judges would have gotten a more severe punishment…I thought TX Judges were tough…Guess they are when it’s a death penalty case.

  • Al

    And that “sentence” just reinforced the fact that if you have enough money you can get away with anything including murder! That is such a shame! This is something I would expect to come out of Florida, not Texas! That family laughed all the way home and probably went out to celebrate while the victims’ families have to deal with their losses for the rest of their lives. I hope a civil lawsuit will be filed against the family since they are responsible for their child’s attitude!

  • Tommy

    I say let him go. The public will handle this guy in one way or another I’m sure. the court system didn’t work. Sometimes you just have to take matters in your own hands.

  • Terry

    I don’t care who or what he is, he should be executed. He killed four people driving drunk. This is what’s wrong with this country.

  • Brandy

    He was tried by a “jury of his peers” which basically means other teenagers. He will mess up. It’s not right but justice will prevail. Victims families should learn to forgive after their mourning. I am a parent and I do teach my kids right from wrong but as they get older i can’t guarantee that they will stay crime free or not make bad choices. It’s not poor parenting that will get my kids in trouble or make stupid decisions.

  • Stephanie

    This kid will never last the 10 years probation. He will end up doing more jail tile than if he got the 20 year sentence. He would’ve served 2 years max. Probation violations will bring a much steeper penalty.

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