Ethics Observations On The “Affluenza” Sentence (And None Of Them Involve Criticizing The Judge)

Judge Boyd, being judged. (The earlier photo posted was NOT Judge Boyd. I apologize to the judge, readers, and whoever's photo that was.)

Judge Boyd, being judged. (The earlier photo posted was NOT Judge Boyd. I apologize to the judge, readers, and whoever’s photo that was, for the error)

The newsmedia and blogosphere are going bonkers over the sentence given to Ethan Couch, the 16-year-old Texan who pleaded guilty last week to four counts of intoxication manslaughter and two counts of intoxication assault causing serious bodily injury. He had a blood-alcohol level three times the legal limit (Couch had stolen beer from a Walmart), plus traces of Valium in his system, when he lost control of  the Ford F-350 pick-up he was driving (over the speed limit) and slammed into four people trying to fix a disabled car on the shoulder. They were killed; two of his seven passengers were critically injured. Prosecutors proposed 20 years in jail as the proper punishment for Couch, but his attorneys tried a novel defense: they had experts testify that their client suffered from “affluenza,” a malady caused by his rich, amoral, neglectful parents, who taught him (the theory goes) that there are no consequences for anything, if one has enough money.

Rejecting the prosecution’s argument, State District Judge Jean Boyd, presiding over the Fort Worth Juvenile Court, shocked everyone by sentencing Couch to only 10 years of probation—no prison time at all. The gist of the media outrage: once again, the life philosophy of Couch’s sociopathic parents is validated. The rich get away with everything: a poor, minority defendant who engaged in the same conduct would have been imprisoned. This is the injustice of the criminal law system in America.

Maybe. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

I think the judge, despite what we are hearing from the media, may have done her job well.

1. I have no idea whether Judge Boyd’s sentence was appropriate or not, and neither do you, nor does any commentator, pundit or radio host that didn’t sit through the trial. If judges made rulings on cases by simply reading summaries of the facts, arguments and testimony—that is, exactly what all of the critics are basing their howls on, if even that—-everyone would agree that the practice was unwise, unfair, and likely to produce bad  jurisprudence. The game of second-guessing judges and juries, primed by instant call-in or online polls responded to by casual voters leads to a lynch mob mentality, where people who learn about case results second and third hand inflame everyone they know, and soon a cultural consensus is in place regardless of relevant facts. Should we question verdicts and sentences that seem wrong to us? Absolutely. There are bad verdicts and unjust sentences. I highlighted one recently that I would be stunned if any additional information surfaced that could justify it. Still, even in that case, it could happen.  Judge Boyd has more experience and knowledge about this case in her court than any after-the fact kibitzers. She deserves the benefit of the doubt, when there is doubt, and there usually is.

2. Once again, we have an example of a defense being raised in court that many observers find repugnant. At a gut level, the “afflueza” argument seems ridiculous to me, even if, as I strongly doubt, there is such a clinical malady as “affluenza.” A teen misbehaves because he has never had to face the consequences of his own actions, so the judge should once again not hold him responsible for his own actions? Talk about an argument that cuts both ways. Still, if the lawyer believes that such defense is his client’s only chance of avoiding the hoosegow—and what other defense is there for an incident like this?—then he not only should try it, he has an obligation to try it.

3. The media reporting on this case has ranged from misleading to incompetent. Here, for example, is Time:

“The defense saved him from a 20-year sentence; State District Judge Jean Boyd bought it at his sentencing on Tuesday and gave Couch probation instead.”

Here’s an editorial writer for the Dallas News:

“Boyd apparently swallowed whole the defense argument that Couch was just a poor, little rich boy effectively abused by parents who set no boundaries and gave him everything except actual parenting.”

And here is the reliably truth-challenged Daily Kos:

“Texas State District Judge Jean Boyd bought the inane “I’m too rich for consequences” defense and actually sided with the Defense and gave him probation…”

This is the theme in the coverage: most of the cable news shows headlined the story that way: a judge was lenient on a drunk driving killer because he was too rich and privileged. There is no evidence I can find that the “affluenza” defense influenced the judge: she apparently didn’t refer to it in her sentencing. I especially like the Daily Kos author’s “actually sided with the defense” claim; well, yes, any time the judge doesn’t accept the maximum sentence recommended by the prosecution you can say she “sided with the defense.” Nevertheless, there is nothing on the record to indicate that Boyd “bought” the defense’s theory.

The news media is flagrantly endorsing the false rationale of post hoc ergo propter hoc—“after this, therefore because of this.” For all anyone knows, the judge would have handed down the same sentence without that defense and its supporting testimony.

4.  Boyd’s actual sentence was carefully thought out, and she did not suggest that he was not responsible for his actions or their results.  She ordered the 16-year-old to receive therapy at a long-term, in-patient facility. His parents were ordered to pay the $450,000-a-year cost for his treatment, which could last several years. Prior to treatment, Couch will stay in Tarrant County juvenile detention until the juvenile probation department prepares a report about possible treatment programs. If the teen violates the terms of his probation at any point, he could be sentenced to prison for 10 years.

In making her order, Judge Boyd told the victims’ families that no sentence would lessen their pain. Directing her remarks to Couch, she made it clear that he, not his parents, is responsible for his actions.That doesn’t sound to me like an endorsement of “affluenza.” Boyd explained that she is familiar with the programs available in the Texas juvenile justice system , and that teens often fail to get the kind of intensive therapy in a state-run program that they would receive at the California facility where she was sending him. This is a sentence crafted to reform and treat a child whose life might still be salvaged.

5. Not that the national media was paying attention, since it wanted to sensationalize the story, but Scott Brown, one of Couch’s attorneys, pointed out that  his client could have been freed in only two years if Judge Boyd had sentenced him to 20 years. “She fashioned a sentence that could have him under the thumb of the justice system for the next 10 years,” Brown said. Judges understand the realities of the justice system: whatever the perception, it can be argued that she gave Couch a tougher sentence than what was requested by the prosecution, as well as one that sought to achieve positive results beyond simple retribution.

6. Doesn’t a judge have an obligation to send a powerful message to other teens, by harshly sentencing Couch to long, hard time? That’s a legitimate view of judicial ethics, but not the only one. Boyd, like many judges, may believe that her obligation is to regard each case as unique, and to sentence defendants according to what she believes is in the best interest of society regarding that particular case, not the generic category of cases. Her judicial duty is to balance a multitude of interests. The desire of the families of the victims to see Couch suffer is not one of the interests that deserve to be taken into consideration, not are the sensibilities of armchair judges in the media. There will be consequences of Ethan’s actions that will restrict and govern his life for a long time. In 2o years, Texas may have created a productive and responsible member of society, rather than a 36 year-old ex-con. If so, justice will have prevailed.

7. Boyd is an elected judge, and one who is not running for re-election. Would she have made the same decision about how to handle Couch’s case if she had to face the voters once more? Whether her sentence was right or wrong, I hope she possesses sufficient integrity and courage that the answer to that question is yes.

[She’s late, but esteemed blogger/law professor Ann Althouse comes to many of the same conclusions in her post, here.]

Pointer: NPR
Graphic: Ann Althouse

580 thoughts on “Ethics Observations On The “Affluenza” Sentence (And None Of Them Involve Criticizing The Judge)

  1. What pathetic arguments the author put forth. I’m sorry this kid needs to do time. The problem was that he was not processed as an adult and in my opinion that should have been mandatory in this case. He was driving an F350 with four friends late at night, if that’s not an adult action then you are all insane. Burn in fuck1ng hell kiddo. I want a retrial now.

    • I don’t see the logic. Most times that children commit crimes they are acting like adults. The reason we have different standards for juveniles is that they are, by adult standards, irrational. You want to eliminate the distinction between children and adults? Fine. They use to hang child pickpockets as young as six back in the Middle Ages, and even after. Progress.

      • “They use to hang child pickpockets as young as six back in the Middle Ages, and even after. Progress.”

        Like that plucky little street urchin that purloined my pocket watch. That little rascally scamp led me on an envigorating street chase past St Paul’s cathedral! Well the lovable little waif was finally nabbed and discovered to have several other gentlemen’s time pieces and even a top hat!

        Gads. I haven’t seen disagreer on this topic yet who has not resorted to emotional arguments or wealth hatred.

      • Let’s get all the facts into evidence. This whole night started with getting high on valium. Then committing robbery. Then running down –murdering– four people and paralyzing two others.

        He is NOT a child. Every action that night was that of an adult.

        • Ugh. Adulthood is not defined by the crime. That is the whole point of juvenile justice. And negligent vehicular homicide is not murder. If you are going to just recast the facts to fit a dishonest argument, nobody’s going to take you seriously, especially me.

            • Are you just randomly shooting in the dark now? Try to be relevant. If this question is going somewhere it would behoove you to clarify, otherwise you continue to look like an idiot.

              Not all crimes are crimes because individuals are physically harmed.

              Are you really resorting to juvenile argument games now?

                • Here’s the answer to your out of the dark question:

                  What laws have the community established for felony drug possession?

                  May the answer to that be your guide.

                  Now I eagerly await the connection you plan on making that will no doubt be based on a false analogy or a hasty generalization that you will probably present as a reductio ad absurdum.

                  Please. Continue.

                  • But but but…didn’t the community the establish laws for felony DUI? Isn’t there some sort uh…penalty, if you will, for running over civilians? Should everyone not adhere to the laws, or only certain people?

                    • What the hell are you blathering about now?

                      Of course there are penalties. Mitigated by interesting things like age of the accused and intent. You still don’t see do you?

                  • You’re kind of a moron. I really don’t understand you. Some new age liberal hippie philosophy you got there that I don’t understand. “Boo hoo…Leave Couch alone. he’s just a baby…leave him alone…he doesn’t understand actions of consequences. ” Rubbish. Absolute rubbish. You’re mostly a white male with rich relatives , and you also love to drink and drive yourself. You and the author.

                    • You really like doubling down on ignorance don’t you?

                      Ablative, this fool things I’m a liberal hippie! Hahahahahahahahahahah. What a dumbass. And that’s coming from me, who avoids profanity on these forums.

                      You are apparently illiterate also. I don’t think anyone on here has said his sentence IS appropriate. We’ve certainly stated no one can prove the judge’s decision was motivated by socioeconomic status. We then abstracted the discussion and talked about pertinent factors that you knee jerk emotionalists continue to ignore.

                      Personally, I wouldn’t mind if the kid got the clink for 80 years. That would be fair also. But you don’t know everything presented to the judge, nor do I. That means that the sentence given is also likely appropriate.

                      Why don’t you do yourself a favor and use your head for something besides a hat rack. Quit thinking with your heart.

                    • Just to be clear William — I am one of the few liberal hippies on this blog, along with Liberal Dan and ZoeBrain (ZoeBrain, I intend that as a compliment and I hope you take it as such). Most of Jack’s commenters are right of center, and AM and TexAgg live on their own libertarian-ish planet which requires mastery of all possible profane language combinations before citizenship is granted.

                      But you do raise an interesting point. It’s often presumed that conservatives are the “hang ’em high” crowd while liberals ring their hands and weep for the children. That’s not always the case.

                      And, as an admitted liberal hippie, for me, the question here is NOT whether the defendant got off lenient, the question is whether all the other young economically-challenged defendants are being judged too harshly for their crimes. With juvenile offenders, we should consider rehabilitation before punishment. It’s better for them and it’s better for society to the extent that rehabilitation can be achieved. And if a rich parent (or even a rich non-relative) is willing to relieve that burden from the State, why wouldn’t we advocate for that result? Less tax payer money will be spent AND there is a greater chance for success. Why are we all racing to the bottom here just to achieve the questionable result of blind justice — it’s not blind justice, it’s blind punishment.

                    • In fairness, and he can correct me if I am wrong, but TexAgg is far more conservative than I.

                      I am a complete and utter libertarian, however, and while anyone can live on my world, they had best be productive because or social welfare programs are sparse

                    • Now don’t neglect Jan, Barry, Chase, Ethics Bob, Charles, Patrice, and tgt (wherever he is.) It’s not THAT unbalanced here. It does seem that the Obamacare fiasco has lately sent the gentle left into hiding, to some extent.

                    • I figured your intellectual tank was close to empty. I didn’t realize just how bad it was.

                      You’ve failed to bring any coherent argument to this discussion. You’ve ignored necessary and pertinent facts and values. You’ve diverted the discussion when you’ve received correction. When in a corner you’ve lashed out with only juvenile ridicule.

                      You’ve proven yourself worthy of the title “idiot”.

                      That’s what you are.

                      Come back when you can discuss with a modicum of intelligence.

                    • Hey B-stryke, you owe me a new keyboard after I spat coffee all over mine. I was in no way prepared for “Oh yeah? Well I bet you’re GAYYY!!!!!1!” as an argument on this thread.

      • This article was so ridiculous I couldn’t get past the first paragraph. This kid is a demon child; the spawn of Satan himself. If you can’t see that, shame on you! It’s not like he’s a good kid and killed 4 people by accident. This was probably the millionth time he broke the law. He’s had prior brushes with the law and will continue to have brushes with the law. Have you seen the movie Problem Child? This kid is worst by at least ten fold. Lock up your daughters, your mothers and your boyfriends, this Ethan Couch will either rape them or run them over! And then I’ll be the one laughing my ass off telling all you liberal morons I told you so. Some guy I know drank and drove, and broke a lady’s ankle. He was sent to prison for over a year! The kid belongs in prison. No ands, ifs or buts! I’m convinced you’re all trolls.

        • Why then are you blaming the judge? If the judge sentenced the youth to 20 years as requested by the prosecutor, being a youth at 16 would most likely be released in two years under state law. The 10 years probation put the subject under complete accountability for 10 years and also the scrutiny of a probation officer.

          The Judge made the best possible sentence she could under her discretion for the rest of us. She has in no way excused his actions. Why sentence him to two years if he would go to a youth detention center and be released in two years with no further consequences? Your arguments against the sentence should be sent to Texas state legislators who can change in the future what happens. Perhaps start by giving the judge more discretion.

    • “What pathetic arguments the author put forth.”

      Ok. Your turn then to demonstrate the so-called pathetic nature of the arguments. This is where you discuss pertinent facts and related societal values. Discuss how they relate to each other and which ones take priority in this case. After that we get to see your conclusion.



  2. ” In 2o years, Texas may have created a responsible member of society, rather than a 36 year-old ex-con. If so, justice will have prevailed.”

    It’s not epic injustice,’it’s an opportunity!

    We get the “opportunity” to potentially add another responsible member to Texas society in 20 years.

    All for the low price of years and years of state supervision (probation or incarceration) and the murder of four innocence people (robbing them of 100-200 years of good life to say nothing of their unborn children’s lives or the hundreds of devistated living relatives and friends)

    No thanks.

    That’s what it means to cheapen the value of life. You write off the extensive and real cost of the devistation.

    Execute him and other human debris like him and let God deal with his soul.

    Not doing so cheapens life even further.

    Although how low can we go after abortion, euthanasia, and “rehabilitation” of murderers?

    Perhaps death as entertainment is next.

    Do we have and Christians handy?

    Where did we put those lions?

  3. when a drunk driver murders , yes murder is the proper term, your wife and child I will ,look foreword to you sticking by your principles and publishing a similar piece on why their murderer should not do any time. I sincerely doubt that piece would be coming though. Karma being the great equalizer do not bet against it happening. You defend a great injustice to the victims families. When it comes time to reap that harvest great it with a smile. You asked for it.

    • Murder requires intent. There ya go your argument is over. Jack hasn’t said the sentence was the best sentence, merely that you knee jerk emotionalists have nothing to prove that the sentence was due to wealth.

        • Under the Texas Penal Code Section 19.02: (b) A person commits an offense [Murder] if he:
          (1) intentionally or knowingly causes the death of an individual;
          (2) intends to cause serious bodily injury and commits an act clearly dangerous to human life that causes the death of an individual; or
          (3) commits or attempts to commit a felony, other than manslaughter, and in the course of and in furtherance of the commission or attempt, or in immediate flight from the commission or attempt, he commits or attempts to commit an act clearly dangerous to human life that causes the death of an individual.

          The prosecution would have to prove that he formed the intent to do those things beyond a reasonable doubt. They would also have to somehow argue that the intoxication does not negate the mens rea of intent which Law 101 tells us it does in cases like this. Uphill battle. This is not murder, it is negligent homicide under the statute.

            • How? The deaths did not occur in the furtherance of the act, unless there is evidence that the truck was fleeing. There isn’t. The theft—it wasn’t a hold-up—was over with. The deaths did not occur in connection with the other crime.

            • That’s because you’re a fucking moron.

              3 means either during the felony, or immediately upon fleeing the felony.

              If the beer he drank had had time to actually get into his system, it wasn’t “immediate”.

              Shit like this is why no one takes you seriously.

              • My question would be if the DUI itself was a felony, aside from the theft and underage drinking (ie what would/could he have been charged with if he’d simply been pulled over and breathalyzed). That does seem like it could have left him open to a felony murder charge, if the DI was a felony, as driving drunk/recklessly is an act dangerous to human life. Of course I’m sure that I’ve oversimplified something, or that would have been the charge that was brought.

      • When you go out drinking and driving, you INTEND to hurt, maim, or kill someone on the road. I’d laugh so hard if a drunk driver hit you. He didn’t INTEND to you hurt you, it was an accident. He had double vision at the time. No harm, no foul. Get off the author’s nuts already. It’s getting old.

  4. “The desire of the families of the victims to see Couch suffer is not one of the interests that deserve to be taken into consideration”

    Justify this if you can, please.

    You and I are obviously of profoundly different temperaments if you think this is not an appropriate thing for the judicial system to enforce.

    The outlawing of duels in the 1800s means that the legal system is now the only source of legal retribution for the majority (some in finance and business have other sources of legal retribution). Since congress outlawed private retribution it is now incumbent on the judicial branch to take over that duty.

    If you do not have the wisdom to recognize why that is so, then you, IMO, do not have the wisdom to be a truly good lawyer. And certainly do not have the wisdom to be a truly ethical judge.

    Perhaps the U.S. should have apologized to Japan after Pearl Harbor. Instead of seeking retribution. If you’ll recall, the healing started four years later.

    • A) the family members were not victims of the Crime, therefore punishment of the criminal is not for them. They can claim emotional grief and damages, but that’s a Civil court issue… Not the criminal trial.

      B) revenge is not an ethical practice.

      • B) Of course it is. At least to me and those of similar ilk. Granted it springs from a moral foundation, but once it involves interactions with others and within society it takes on ethical connotations. Thus the long acknowledged rules and regulations of dueling and vendetta within various cultures.

        What philosophical ethical doctrine are you refering to when you say it isn’t?

        • Yeah, just because you’re ok with it doesn’t actually make it ethical.

          Revenge and vengeance are not ethical.

          I am frequently ok with them, but I dont delude myself into thinking it is ethical.

                • Vengeance, as described above by “anonymousskimmer”, is an act committed by a private citizen out of their own motivation for justice and personal satisfaction. That is not the same as a retributive form of punishment dispensed by constituted authorities arrived at after due process.

                  • Retribution by codified authority…retribution is vengeance by a different name, and the point raised was that the duty to give the family the closure of that retribution lies with the court on behalf of society at large….and that it has failed to offer any in this case….

                    Do remember you’re the one that has brought up that retribution is a goal of the legal system and not simply rehabilitation or the protection of society from danger…

                    • Uh huh. And the state’s role would be to administer retribution on behalf of the community. Not on behalf of family members.

                      Remember, the family members were not victims in this. If the crime is murder, the victim is dead. Any retribution is by the community for the deceased. Not vengeful family members. Because private blood feuds are not ethical.

                      You really don’t see the distinction?

                    • Sure they are. They aren’t victims of murder. They aren’t victims of a crime. They are aggrieved and emotionally distraught. Issues to be resolved in a civil court not a criminal court.

                    • They aren’t victims in the eyes of the criminal justice system, nor should they be. Unless you believe that a mother’s murder should be considered more of a crime than that of a single woman. Do you?

          • Please define how you are using the word “ethical”. We’re talking past each other and I truly don’t understand what you mean by the term.

        • I subscribe to a code of ethics that involves our system of Due Process and constituted authorities. A system that does not endorse personal unilateral decisions to mete out justice as any individual sees fit. You see, you aren’t a constituted authority that can arbitrarily decide to avenge wrongs you feel have been directed at you.

          Plus, the revenge you have described above is familial blood feud style revenge. It is emotion based and it leaves justice outside the hands of constituted authorities. This does not work in civil society.

          • Legalism is not a valid system of ethics, you have to inform it with an actual ethical framework. Essentially your apparent code of ethics is simply to appeal to the authority of the state….hardly an ethical system worth the name.

            • You’ll note my phraseology. I stated I use an ethical framework that involves our system of due process. That doesn’t state that Due process is the premise from which I derive ethics.

              Try again.

    • This is not analogous to war, so your Pearl Harbor reference is irrelevant.

      If it were relevant its a false analogy: Jack hasn’t implied that the family members owe anything to the felon or ought to just sit back and enjoy the verdict.

      • Any use of force can be legitimately analogized to war.

        Sure, Pearl harbor wasn’t the best analogy, but I’m trying to use an absurdity to understand the boundaries of the ethical thought here.

        • The thing, though, is, the reason why we ultimately consider WWII a “good” war isn’t because we wanted revenge against the Japanese, but because we stopped two brutal governments from taking over much of the world, and then, instead of simply punishing the losers, we helped rebuild their economies, turning them into not only allies, but nations with living standards that are the envy of most of the world.

          Hell, even the reason a lot of us tolerate vengeance-type sentencing is because in many cases, it can be a utilitarian means of signifying that “this shit ain’t cool bro”, and prevent people from abusing potential loopholes that might occur if the punishment scheme was more “fine-tuned”.

  5. The same judge:

    “A 14-year-old Fort Worth boy has been sentenced to 10 years in a juvenile jail for killing a stranger with a single unprovoked punch.” March 2012

    “A teenager who laughed while beating a man with a pellet rifle during a Halloween party last year and robbed at least 20 partygoers was sentenced Monday to 10 years in a Texas Youth Commission facility.”

    I suppose those two teens were not suffering from dreaded “affluenza” and deserved the harsher punishments.

    • I’m sick of reminding people of this, because it suggest that they didn’t read the post: there is no indication that the judge agreed with or followed the “affluenza” defense.

      “A 14-year-old Fort Worth boy has been sentenced to 10 years in a juvenile jail for killing a stranger with a single unprovoked punch.” That sounds like a knock-out game homicide to me. The sentence is justified. Randomly attacking strangers for “fun” isn’t irresponsible, its vicious. Not comparable to what couch did.

      Robbing 20 people and beating a man? You seriously thing this is comparable? What don’t you think is comparable?

      • Robbing a walmart for 2 cases of beer, getting drunk and high on Valium and running over 4 unsuspecting victims isn’t vicious? I get that randomly punching a stranger isn’t the best practice of “fun”, but neither are the above stated actions of Couch. I bet neither kid thought that the outcome of their actions would be the loss of life for another human being, but the consequence for one is “rehabilitation” and a comfortable and luxurious spot on the beaches of California while the other is probably being raped in the prison system right now. One deserve to be a “rehabilitated” member of society while the other deserves to be an ex-con. Why? Could it happen to be because of the side of the tracks each party lives on?

      • You do seem to gloss over the fact that there was a robbery involved here too, and of course, he does have prior conduct on record involving drinking and driving (and also indecent exposure and possibly a host of other issues related to a naked 14 year old passed out in the passenger seat….) all of which should point towards a rather less generous outlook in terms of leniency for continued conduct that results in deaths….

      • 1) Irresponsible? Couch chose to get drunk. Couch chose to do illegal drugs. Couch chose to drive drunk. Couch chose to drive while under the influence of drugs. Couch chose to drive 70 in a 40. That is just “irresponsible to you”. WOW. 2) He slaughtered 4 people and destroyed the lives of multiple families and that isn’t “vicious” enough for you?

        • If you are not indeed this dumb, you are doing a great imitation. There is nothing “vicious” about drunk driving. Reckless? Stupid? Irresponsible? Defiant of law and safety? Yes. But unless he set out to kill people, and there is no evidence that he did, your characterization is hysterical, and factually without support. Last chance to stop spouting garbage so vociferously (either speak some sense vociferously, or be humble while writing like an idiot.). Your choice. The next post like this gets banned. It pollutes the blog.

    • Commenter #30 who has brought up these cases and also can’t distinguish between intentional malice and reckless negligence.

      Go read the comments. This tack has been debunked entirely.

  6. Fine, have at it, it was either criminally negligent homicide or manslaughter according to the Texas penal code on top of that it was committed while in the commission of a crime (stealing beer). That doesn’t change the fact that this sentence is infinitely more lenient than the sentences she had passed down to prior juveniles. Kuntrell Jackson, who is black, was 14 years old when he took part in a robbery that ended with the death of a store clerk. Even though Jackson was not the trigger man, he was tried as an adult sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

    Evan Miller, who is also black, was 14 when he was convicted of murdering a man he was attempting to rob. He was also sentenced to life without parole.

    The judge also gave a 10-year sentence to a teen who punched someone who died after falling and hitting his head.

    The author mentions “she believes is in the best interest of society regarding that particular case”, I guess she believes young black teenagers deserve to be in state Texas prisons while rich white teenagers belong in Newport Academy in sunny Southern California that has on-site horses and an on-site gym with new, state-of-the-art equipment

    • 1. Kuntrell Jackson, who is black, was 14 years old when he took part in a robbery that ended with the death of a store clerk. Even though Jackson was not the trigger man, he was tried as an adult sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

      2. Evan Miller, who is also black, was 14 when he was convicted of murdering a man he was attempting to rob. He was also sentenced to life without parole.

      3. The judge also gave a 10-year sentence to a teen who punched someone who died after falling and hitting his head.

      Seriously—you don’t see why these could all be legitimately seen as more serious?

      1 and 2 are deaths that occur in a robbery. That’s felony murder, which is murder in the first degree. I don’t know whether the felony murder rule applies to juveniles in Texas, but it does in many jurisdictions. The third sounds like a knock-out game murder to me. Yes, I think punching strangers for fun is worse than reckless drunk driving, and shows a cruel and anti-social character. Race and socioeconomic status has nothing to do with it.

      • “Yes, I think punching strangers for fun is worse than reckless drunk driving”

        You think a punch is worse than having a 6,000 lb truck barreling at you? Thank god you aren’t a doctor.

        • What the hell is wrong with you? I don’t usually resort to name calling but there is no way around it, your a moron.

          For those of you new to this place understand that although the regulars here may vehemently disagree with each other at times, may even insult each other, the discussions are conducted in good faith, that differing views are centered on ethical principals, most of the regulars have even taken positions at times that they have found personally reprehensible but ethically sound. Coming here with your emotional replies and opinions that are based on feelings and use no objective principals or standards for analysis is not what this blog is about. For your emotional and unprincipled comments I can recommend Huffpo.

          If you would care to stay and maybe learn something I would recommend the resources that Jack provides on his site. Taking a contrary opinion here, even one contrary to Jacks is fine but for the love of God base it on some logic and principals.

          • There is absolutely nothing wrong with me but clearly something wrong with you. Clearly your read comprehension skills are at fault. I don’t take issue with Jack personally while I vehemently disagree. It’s disingenuous at best that he believes that “punching strangers for fun is worse than reckless drunk driving”. 4 people died in this case and countless others are killed all the time by drunken driving. I find it implausible that a single blow to the head is responsible for as many deaths as drunk driving therefore it can’t possibly be worse as Jack said.

            • The reason your a moron is you don’t understand that the point is not which is the greater tragedy but one of intent. Jack stated noting in regards to which is “worse”, only that intent makes these crimes, thus there outcome incomparable.

              • While you continue with the name calling I’ll take the high ground. And of course the point is which the greater tragedy, drunk driving and clocking someone in the head are both activities that don’t have intent to inflict lethal injuries, but they both have obvious negative consequences one of which is MUCH more lethal than the other. The intent is lacking in both cases no one is refuting that.

                • Being retarded isn’t the moral high ground.

                  Hitting someone with your fist is of course intending harm. That you morons can’t grasp the actual definition of the word “intent” is fucking astonishing to me.

                  • Their arguments all hinge on “intent” being a non-factor in crime.

                    I wish I could throw out pertinent premises I didn’t like when reaching conclusions. Then I could pick and choose any conclusion on a whim!

            • The difference is that drunk drivers generally don’t intend to commit ANY sort of harm to others, while a puncher at least has the INTENT of HURTING (not necessarily the same as KILLING) another human being. Of course, a potential drunk should know that driving in that state will potentially put others at risk, which goes into issues about how much a person with impaired judgement is liable for their actions (and how much they’re responsible for being in that impaired state to begin with), but that’s unfortunately not the question you’re asking.

              Also, I don’t think you can make any sort of judgement with regards to punching vs. drunk driving without actually bothering to crunch numbers: is a 17-fold increase in punching with intent to hurt worth a one-fold decrease in drunk driving? I mean, hell, even holding everything else equal, it’s worth noting that not every incident of drunk driving even leads to physical damage of any sort to another human being, while pretty much all instances of malevolent punching involve inflicting at least some damage to someone else.

              • *Unless of course, the guy being punched is good at dodging, but with drunk driving, dodging isn’t always necessary to save your life, especially if there isn’t much in the way of people (yourself included) around to begin with.

              • Yes, thanks for better wording. I’ve tried getting those taking this tack to realize this. They have a beef with how the law was applied when they really have a need with the law.

                If they want the mitigating factors of intoxication or negligence or recklessness or juvenility to factor differently then lets hear the arguments. There are good ones.

      • #2 I agree with Jack. #3 I’m ambivalent about. #1 I cannot see as more serious, especially given the earlier theft of beer by Couch. The person convicted was too young not to feel profound peer-pressure to contributed to the crime, and was not the actual trigger person.

        Fortunately the Arkansas and U.S. Supreme Courts agree that life was too harsh:

  7. I’m sorry, I appreciate the point of this site, but there are serious problems with this argument and if anything makes me more suspicious that if indeed the judge didn’t suffer a serious lapse in judgement in this verdict, that bribery or corruption might have been involved.

      • Your comment about #it sounds like knock out game murder to me#
        This statement is without proof. It is also very emotional. Driving down a dark road @ 70 miles would be scary for a three year old. Drunk 16 yr old should know better. Because he didn’t ,he gets off. Since he did not have to pay for his deeds, then the responsibility should fall on his divorced parent. One of which allow him access to the company vehicle . This child should be to get a driver license. He is a responsible being.

  8. Did you read the facts of the case? “Couch’s blood alcohol reading was .24 and he also had a Valium in his system after he and a group of friends stole alcohol from Walmart, drank it and later piled into his pick-up truck. Driving 70 miles in a 40 miles per hour zone, he struck and killed four pedestrians as well as injuring two of his own passengers who remain paralyzed.” How is this any different from felony murder where a botched robbery results in death — in this case the proximate cause of the death of four people (and paralyzing injuries of two others), who would have had hundreds of productive years of life, was Ethan’s commission of two felonies: (1) robbery of alcohol from a local Wal-Mart and (2) drinking and driving. In addition, this wasn’t Ethan Couch’s first run-in with the law; he has had other incidents before involving assault and theft where he got a slap on the wrist.

    If retribution wasn’t a valid point of our justice system, then why sentence anyone to jail at all. Based on your argument, all juvenile criminals should be sentenced to the same fancy rehabilitation treatment that Ethan is getting in the same facility (regardless of cost) — since, as you said, (1) this wasn’t about socioeconomics and (2) the goal of the justice system is to ensure that “we don’t waste the lives” of juvenile criminals. I think both you and I know though the real reason behind this decision — the sad fact that our Justice system is neither blind nor fair.

    • How is this any different from felony murder where a botched robbery results in death ? It is different because it doesn’t constitute deaths in the commission of the crime. If he had run over four people fleeing from the crime scene, that would have been felony murder. The robbery was over. It is a separate crime completely.

      No, I don’t know the real reason behind this decision, because it can be justified on its face. You don’t “know” either.

      • I mentioned this elsewhere as well, but I don’t think it was in response to you. As a lawyer, Jack, maybe you can answer this for me- I get that the theft and the underage drinking had already been commited and so he was no longer in comission of those crimes, but if DUI is a felony then can’t killing people while driving drunk be classed as felony murder? That is, the driving while drunk is both the crime and the dangerous act resulting in loss of life. Or am I missing something? Maybe DUI isn’t a felony like I thought it was.

  9. Are the other kids who rode with him being held legally accountable in any way?

    They had to have known he was drunk. And they participated by getting in the vehicle with him and letting him drive it.

    • Its an interesting question since there was a robbery that they had conduct earlier caught on camera and an argument could be made that this was fleeing from that…and thus these were deaths occurring in the commission of a crime…

        • Why not? There was another crime commited that resulted in this entire situation….there is a clear causal link between the theft of alcohol and the drunk driving….or are you perhaps too stupid to understand the link between alcohol and getting drunk?

          Actually on second thoughts, don’t answer that, just go back to fellating goats like a good little redneck fuckwit and leave talking to people with an IQ higher than their shoe size.

        • @ablativemeatshld So a 14 year old steals a spiderman doll from Walmart. He runs out the store. Security chases him. The security guard and kid get into a scuffle. The security guard has a heart attack and dies.

          Are you telling me that kid would NOT be held liable for that heart attack?

  10. ““Probably the hardest thing was the denial of his part, refusing to accept that he did anything wrong,” Mitchell said. “Telling paramedics that he didn’t have to answer his questions?”

    Testimony described Couch as beligerent and uncooperative following the deadly crash, at one point saying I’m outta here and starting to walk away from emergency crews.

    Evidence showed Couch had valium in his system and a blood alcohol level three times the legal limits.”

    – Source

    “Dr Miller pointed to Couch’s parents’ decision not to punish him after he was found by police in a parked pick-up truck with an unconscious, undressed 14-year-old girl a year before the fatal accident.”


    “It was not his first alcohol-related run-in with the police. In February, he was caught with a can of beer and a bottle of vodka and cited for possessing and consuming alcohol as a minor.”

    Source ––or-a-victim-of-affluenza-9004308.html

      • I could have sworn we were talking ethics around here and not legal requirements. Simply complying with regulation is not itself ethical, it does in fact show a lack of ethical character….and it also shows in this case a lack of regard for those killed and injured by his actions.

        Then again, I am increasingly wondering if you have any actual concern for ethics or are simply an asshole with an obession for legalism…because that is certainly how you come across again and again in this discussion.

        Also, nice of you to ignore the other details pulled out there, that show this was hardly an isolated lapse of judgement and formed a repeated pattern of behaviour and disregard for others….there have also been mention in other sources of assault, robbery and other incidents that have failed to make major press due to being dealt with quietly at a local level….generally with weregeld….all of which is information easily available to the judge when it comes to sentencing….

        I notice you have also ignored my request to explain what the point of prison is other than rehabilitation if “vengeance” is not a concern? Would you like me to send you a thesaurus to help you understand the important synonyms and related terms or do you just want to get back to your goats?

        • With response to your question on prison; deterrence and safety. The former because people don’t like being locked up, and the latter because locking someone else up means that they can’t go committing crimes on the general population. However, this leads to another issue; the value of non-life sentences, in which that person is going to be free eventually. In that case, rehabilitation is important, if only because we don’t want ex-perps to continue their malignant ways when they’re released. In that respect, our prison system is sort of a disappointment to say the least, and I suspect Jack would agree on that point.

  11. I accidentally stumbled onto this page after signing the petition to have the Judge on this case, Jean Boyd, disbarred. And now after reading your article, I want to move to another country! A child who kills 4 people after making the decision to steal alcohol and drunk drive needs punishment. Rehabilitation should coincide with punishment, but not replace punishment. Staying at a facility near Malibu and having a daily regiment of yoga, nutritional counseling and equine therapy is a slap in the face to all of this drunk driver’s victims.

  12. This man stole alcohol, consumed it and then proceeded to drive whilst heavily under the influence.
    Now imagine if this was a poor black man, who stole to feed his children, not under the influence of drugs or alcohol but killed 4 people trying to evade capture by the police.
    Would it even seem conceivable that the judge would consider an equal punishment because of being “poor and desperate to feed his family”?

  13. My turn. I have a question for Jack and all of you fine folks participating in this debate. (If this has been covered in the slew of posts above, please forgive. My eyes are getting blurry.) Here’s the question…

    Does the U.S. presently have a “two-tiered American justice system, where the elite are subject to a distinctively different set of rules than the rest of the population?”

    I’m not very smart when it comes to the law, and I will tell you I cribbed my question from here, question # 5…

  14. Jack…please spare us the faced of the ‘cool, intelligent Emperor of the Age of Reason’. We get it: You analyze everything ’till the soul & heart are gone, and then respond with smug, thinly-veiled & passive/aggressive arrogant sarcasm.

    People, and the consequences of their actions, aren’t modeled after mathematics. There are all kinds of elements to this. In the end, proper punishment wasn’t doled out. Instead, entitlement was.

    But please continue. This is your world, and you are, after all, Emperor.

    • I’m sure glad you get it: I have no idea what “You analyze everything ’till the soul & heart are gone, and then respond with smug, thinly-veiled & passive/aggressive arrogant sarcasm” means, but it sure sounds good. Do you mean I try to figure out what’s going on without using emotion and rationalizations? Guilty as charged. “Smug, thinly-veiled & passive/aggressive arrogant sarcasm”, however, is gibberish—I wouldn’t know how to do that if I tried.

      Hey, but thanks for your leave to continue, whoever the hell you are.

  15. “She deserves the benefit of the doubt, when there is doubt, and there usually is.”

    This is not a case where judgements come down to minute details only those in the courtroom know. He was driving drunk and high and hit a car on the side of the road. What else do you need to know? That’s all there is to it. No other details are going to change that.

  16. The Author of this is a complete moron and hos arguments are pathetic. I have heard that writing for a well known news company is not an easy thing but after this how hard is it really when you can write bull-shi* and call it a story and justice. The author of this along with the judge should go into a room with the families of those who died.

      • It sucks when it gets to the point that all we have is sarcasm.

        Since everyone here seems to stem from 3 main core arguments:

        1) people who don’t know what “intent” is

        2) people who are pissed that society gives different consideration for “juvenility” and “intoxication”

        3) people who just are angry and insulting

        Perhaps you should have 3 stock responses and just link to them.

    • In order to argue with Jack when you think he’s wrong – as I do here –

      1 Present evidence
      2 Build up a logical case
      3. Be prepared to answer searching cross-examination.
      4. Be prepared to concede that he may be correct in whole or in part
      5. Point out to him any problems you see in his conclusions.

      Jack Marshall is extremely useful for testing your own ideas. If there are flaws or inconsistencies in your argument, odds are he won’t let your rhetoric obscure them. You may fool yourself, but not him.

      He may change his mind; you may change yours; but in any event, everyone who reads what has been said in the debate will end up better informed.

      Statements that are self-evidently false – such as “the author is a moron” – can be and will be dismissed without addressing them.

      In this case, I think Jack is not just wrong, but very wrong indeed. But if that is the case, it should be relatively easy for me to rebut him, using facts and rational argument. In the process of marshaling those arguments, my own thoughts are clarified, and any weaknesses in or muddiness of thinking I’m guilty of is exposed. Hopefully before I publish them.

  17. Disclaimer the first: I’m not an attorney, nor do I play one on TV. Disclaimer the second: I have no knowledge of Texas law regarding juvenile justice, nor do I have any knowledge of Texas state law regarding negligent vehicular homicide, nor do I have any real knowledge of that state’s laws regarding DUI, homicide, manslaughter or murder. And yes, I know the difference between murder and negligent vehicular homicide, and I am also aware that young Mr. Couch is a minor.
    Disclaimer the third: I have not read Judge Boyd’s actual ruling, nor have I seen actual video of her sentencing. If someone could provide a link to that (if a link exists), it would be appreciated. That being said:

    Regarding point 1, Prof. Marshall says: ” I have no idea whether Judge Boyd’s sentence was appropriate or not, and neither do you, nor does …[anyone else] that didn’t sit through the trial.” Fair enough, at least in part: none of us on either side of this issue heard all the testimony given or all the evidence. The vast majority of people commenting on this are also presumably not attorneys. However, to this layman (an to many others), something tastes horrible here. Four people are dead, at least two others are seriously injured (at least one for life), and Mr. Couch’s actions are not to be given light consideration as simple negligence. No, this isn’t murder – presumably young Mr. Couch didn’t see people on the sidewalk and tell his friends, “Hey, watch me mow these people down!” However, Mr. Couch began the evening by ingesting Valium and committing a minor crime (theft). Mr. Couch then drove while intoxicated, a very serious criminal offense, and proceeded to cause by his actions the deaths of four people. Now I may not be an attorney, but to this layman that seems like pretty serious business. Had he been an adult, this almost certainly would have garnered him time in prison. Again, I don’t know what Texas law calls for in a case of negligent homicide, but it doesn’t seem like the sort of probation Mr. Couch received is par for the course.

    Regarding point 2 and the defense’s use of “the affluenza defense”: it’s true that we don’t know if this had any bearing on the judge’s decision. However, it should be duly noted that affluenza is not a recognized mental disorder – it’s not in the DSM, and as Anderson Cooper rightly pointed out, we used to call that “being a spoiled brat”. No, it’s junk science, no different than Scott Brown and his cohorts arguing that Couch was demonically possessed or that little gremlins grabbed the wheel and forced him to kill four people, or that his astrological sign made him do it. Of course Brown has an obligation to serve the best needs of his client, but this is stretching it more than a wee bit.

    Regarding point 3: isn’t referring to one of the sources as “reliably truth-challenged” an ad hominem argument? Besides, suppose the blog in question (an opinion blog with a political bias) is wrong 80% of the time, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s wrong this time. Logical fallacy, professor… Also, the judge did agree with the defense that rehab and probation was warranted, so at least in one sense she “sided with” or “bought into the arguments of” the defense. Given the treatment of other defendants who have caused the deaths of others (and yes, I’m aware those engaged in deliberately violent behavior), I’m inclined to believe that Mr. Couch’s demeanor in court, the fact that he may not have looked like others, and that he could afford much better attorneys than other defendants *might* have entered into Judge Boyd’s decision. In any case, you have to ask whether justice was served, and I think what angers so many (myself included) is that Mr. Couch is going to a facility that looks like a luxury hotel, complete with horseback riding, yoga, and cooking classes – Dr. Dick Miller indicated that “they’ll take his XBox away from him” during his interview with Anderson Cooper on CNN. Cry me a river…

    Point 4: I’m glad the judge indicated that Couch was responsible for his actions, I only wish the sentence would have been commensurate with the gravity of his actions. Whether the parents are footing the bill or not is something that doesn’t concern me, and it could well be that they have enough wealth that $4.5 million over 10 years may be a minor hiccup financially. As you pointed out, Judge Boyd also told the families of the victims that no sentence could ease their suffering. Fair enough, but this sentence was hardly a balm, and at least on the surface it looks like it doesn’t serve justice. Maybe the judge is playing 10th dimensional chess or something, but I don’t really see any evidence that Couch is being held to account for his actions. I sincerely hope I’m wrong, but I also don’t see anything but the good word of Dr. Miller that this program will turn Couch into a responsible person.

    Point 5: See above regarding the toughness of the sentence. I’m not inclined to believe that horseback riding and yoga and cooking classes in a facility that looks like it deserves a couple of Michelin stars is “tough”. My apologies if your mileage varies.

    Point 6: This is where I think the theory of justice employed by the judge and the other cases involving strong sentences is relevant. I don’t necessarily *disagree* with the sentences given to the others (and again, I recognize that they were acting violently and Couch was acting with reckless disregard and negligently). However, I disagree with *this* sentence. On the notion that Couch got this sentence because of his family’s wealth: it looks like a certain fowl and it walks like one: it may not be a duck, but it sure as hell is quacking like one.

    One final note regarding the judge’s ethics: does she not have an obligation to the ideal of “equal justice under law”, a notion that’s enshrined in the Constitution under the 14th Amendment and inscribed at the entrance to the US Supreme Court building? It would be instructive to see how she has handled any other juvenile DUI cases. As it stands, this verdict is one that, at least on the surface, doesn’t look like it either serves justice or equal protection under the law. Thank you for your time.

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