Affluenza teen’s sentencing highlights faults in justice system

By Alyson Jurgovan

Staff Reporter


     Ethan Couch, a 19-year-old more commonly known as the “affluenza teen,” has been sentenced to two years in prison after fleeing the country to avoid his parole sentence for the murder of four people.

        In June 2013, while driving on a restricted license and with a blood alcohol content of .24 (three times the legal limit in Texas), Couch made his way down a 40 mph zone going 70 mph, according to reports. A group of four people stood on the side of the road to assist a broken down SUV. Couch’s truck struck the bystanders, killing all four of them. A total of nine people were seriously injured, including one of Couch’s passengers who is now paralyzed.

        Judge Jean Boyd sentenced Couch to 10 years probation in juvenile court. Couch’s attorney successfully argued that he should not be held accountable for the murders because he suffered from affluenza, or the inability to understand the consequences of one’s actions because of financial privilege. Couch’s defense fought for a luxurious mental rehabilitation center at a facility that offered activities like basketball, massages and horseback riding. Judge Boyd chose to send him to an in-state mental health facility.

        As if the “diagnosis” and sentencing were not menacing enough, Couch and his mother fled the country in December 2015, setting off an international manhunt. They were found later that month in Mexico on a vacation resort. Subsequently, in April 2016, Couch was sentenced to serve a light two years in jail.  

        It should be immediately acknowledged that affluenza is not recognized as a medical diagnosis by the American Psychiatric Association; and rightfully so, how can being too privileged get someone out of murder?

        Secondly, it should be acknowledged that there are countless young men of color from lower socioeconomic statuses serving much harsher sentences for much milder crimes.

In 2012, Judge Jean Boyd, the same judge that sentenced Couch, gave a 14-year-old African American boy 10 years in juvenile detention for murdering a man with a single punch, according to the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office. Yes, he murdered someone, but why would this young man’s sentencing be drastically heavier than Couch’s? Couch murdered four people and then fled the country, showing no remorse.

        Could it not be argued that a poor upbringing is influential to an offender’s crime? Shouldn’t it be highly considered over someone who never had everything given to him?

Mass incarceration and the prison industrial complex remove men of color from society with ease. Ethan Couch gets a two-year sentence for a mass murder. Where is the rage? Why is only some justice acceptable?

        Couch bought himself out of prison. What about the others who can’t afford the chance of rehabilitation? The adversity is that our criminal justice system is not for them.   


Categories: op-ed

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