The Slatest

“Affluenza” Teen Who Nearly Escaped Punishment After Killing Four People Gets Two Years Jail Time  

Ethan Couch, 16, avoided prison time after his lawyers offered the "affluenza" defense.
Ethan Couch avoided prison time in 2013 after his lawyers offered the “affluenza” defense.

Screenshot from ABC affiliate WFAA

When he was 16, Ethan Couch stole some beer with his friends, went driving in his pickup truck, and crashed into four people on the side of the road, killing them. He also severely injured one of the passengers in the car. In court, a psychologist used the defense that Couch suffered from “affluenza,” a claim that he was morally challenged due to the wealth and permissiveness of his parents, and should therefore not be sent to jail. In 2013, he was sentenced to a 10-year probation, with no jail time.

Yeah, no jail time for killing four people. Couch got off easy after being tried in juvenile court, which stresses rehabilitation—despite the fact that Tarrant County prosecutors had called for him to get 20 years in prison. The much, much, much lighter sentence only came after the “affluenza” defense nonsense. Needless to say, people (especially the family members of Couch’s victims) were pissed. “Being rich is now a get-out-of-jail-free card,” read a headline on The Week

Those angered by his lenient sentencing can now be somewhat mollified: This Wednesday, Couch was sentenced to nearly two years in jail after violating his probation, reports the New York Times. A judge ruled that he would spend 720 days at Tarrant County Jail in Fort Worth, Texas, 180 days for each count of intoxicated manslaughter. In December, Couch violated probation by fleeing with his mother to a Mexican resort town to avoid a probation hearing that might have led to jail time. He was arrested by Mexican authorities, and then put in juvenile prison in Texas while he awaited a hearing.

In February, Couch was moved to adult jail, where he is currently in solitary confinement. “[P]rosecutors did not pursue a specific penalty in juvenile court for a probation violation because Mr. Couch would have aged out of the system once he turned 19,” according to the Times  “Instead, Mr. Couch’s case was moved to adult court, which led to Wednesday’s hearing.”

There’s still a possibility that the defense might be able to soften his sentence if they can make a convincing argument in the next two weeks, with the judge saying “Nothing I do is set in stone, so I might reconsider.” That seems impossible to imagine, but so did the idea that the “affluenza” defense might have worked in the first place.