Blame it on “Affluenza”

On the fateful day of June 15, 2013 Ethan Couch and some friends went to the local Walmart to get some beer. The only problem was they were all underage; Ethan was only sixteen at the time. So they did what any other teenager would do and steal the beer.

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The story could have ended here, with the boys going home and getting drunk on the stolen beer. But it didn’t. Instead, Ethan and his friends decided to take Ethan’s truck on a joyride through town.

Around the same time, Breanna Mitchell’s SUV broke down. She pulled over to the side of a rural road in the town of Burleson, Texas. She waited here until her neighbors Hollie and Shelby Boyles and youth minister Brian Jennings stopped by to help her out.

Ethan, with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.24, three times the legal amount to be considered drunk in the United States (0.08), was driving the truck at recklessly high speeds throughout the neighborhood. The paths of the good Samaritans and the drunk teenagers crossed as  Ethan’s pickup truck came hurtling at them at 70 miles per hour.

Breanna, Hollie, Shelby, and Brian all died because of the crash. Ethan’s two friends, Solimon Mohmand and Sergio Molina were violently tossed from his pickup truck. Solimon suffered numerous broken bones and internal injuries. Sergio became paralyzed and is now only able to communicate through blinking his eyes.

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The scene of the accident.

Ethan was arrested on scene and went through a trial. He was charged with intoxicated manslaughter and the prosecution sought a minimum twenty year prison sentence.

Just yesterday, Texas Judge Jean Boyd shocked the victims’ families as well as the country by sentencing Ethan to ten years’ probation. Many people were outraged that the judge would give him such a lenient punishment after all the death and destruction he’s caused. Judge Boyd agreed with the defense’s claim that Ethan was a victim of his parents’ wealth, a condition known as affluenza. The term affluenza is defined as “a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more“. Ethan’s defense claimed that he was handed everything by his wealthy parents and that he never learned to take responsibility for his actions, thus rendering the accident not his fault. A psychologist claimed that the boy had a cold and distant relationship with his parents and was taught to “throw money” at his problems.

This isn’t the first time Ethan has been in trouble with the law for alcohol related charges, nor is it the first time he’s gotten away with it. According to trial testimony, he was caught passed out and undressed in his car with an underage girl. In that incident, the police officer just let him go.

Ethan’s father has offered to pay $450,000 a year for Ethan to attend a rehab center in southern California. This center has everything; from chef-prepared meals, to yoga, to nature hikes. These so-called rehabilitation centers are essentially a get-out-of-jail-free card for the wealthy.

We must remember that Ethan accepted a plea deal in order to go to rehab. This becomes an injustice for the poor or even most middle class Americans who cannot afford to go to such rehabilitation centers. If any other less affluent teenager were to commit a crime of this severity, the book would have surely been thrown at him/her. A less affluent teen would have never been offered this plea deal because their family wouldn’t be able to afford this treatment. 

How can one call this justice? A seventeen-year-old that participated in a $2 stickup also received 10 years probation. When he was caught smoking marijuana while on probation, a Texas judge sentenced him to life in prison.

Similarly, John Alexander Wood, a wealthy Texas business man shot an unarmed prostitute and only received ten years probation. Even when on probation, he constantly broke the law, smoking crack cocaine and failing drug tests various times. The Judge let him remain free and soon exempted him from the usual conditions that must be followed while on probation, such as drugs tests, meeting with a probation officer, and not being able to own a firearm.

How about this for injustice: A thirteen-year-old boy in California was sentenced to ten years in a state juvenile facility after killing his abusive neo-Nazi father. This boy also grew up in a broken home, yet his status was not enough to be deemed as a conditional to excuse his behavior, unlike in the case of Ethan.

What this judge has done is essentially tell the affluent youth of America to go ahead and do reckless and moronic things, you’ll get away with only a slap on the wrist. This kid won’t learn from this. If anything, you can expect more reckless actions from him in the future. Apparently in America, you can be too rich to know better, but if you’re poor, they throw the book at you.

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