The infamous vehicular homicide case that generated the “Affluenza Defense” is well on its way to becoming an ethics train wreck.
The news media keeps doing its part: today CNN’s Ashleigh Banfield, whom I can no longer recall why I ever thought she was more than an over-opinionated hack (I think it was her glasses) said again today that Judge Jean Boyd “bought” 16-year-old scofflaw Ethan Crouch’s defense that he wasn’t responsible for his actions (that ended up leading to the death of four and critical injuries to two of his friends) because he had been spoiled by an affluent upbringing. As I already pointed out, there is no evidence that Judge Boyd agreed with that dubious argument, and solid evidence that she did not. Never mind. Ashleigh and the rest of her incompetent colleagues will continue to try to mislead the public regarding this just as they regularly do on nearly every other news story.
The more surprising development was the sudden participation of the Tarrant County District Attorney Joe Shannon, he whose efforts to jail young Couch were foiled by Boyd’s expansive judicial compassion toward a minor, in the ethics follies. He’s attempting another “bite of the apple, ” as judges say, by asking Boyd to lock up Ethan on two counts of intoxication assault that he argues are still pending before her court. Shannon explained:
“During his recent trial, the 16-year-old admitted his guilt in four cases of intoxication manslaughter and two cases of intoxication assault. There has been no verdict formally entered in the two intoxication assault cases. Every case deserves a verdict.”
Shannon’s renewed plea focuses on the two teens riding in the back of Couch’s Ford F-350 pickup (voluntarily riding there, knowing the driver was unlicensed and drunk as a skunk) who suffered life-altering injuries. One of them, Sergio Molina, is paralyzed and can communicate only by blinking. It is 1) disingenuous 2) unprofessional 3) unfair 4) futile, and he knows it, 5) irresponsible, and 6) probably unconstitutional.
All of which means his gambit is 7) unethical.
It is disingenuous because he knows that the Judge’s sentence was intended to cover those counts as well. Couch pleaded guilty to all of the counts, and the judge rendered her sentence. It is unprofessional because Shannon is obviously playing to the mob and the media, taking this cynical course in response to the uproar over Boyd’s light sentence. Prosecutors are not supposed to base their handling of cases on popular outrage, and it is unethical to do so.
His stunt, and that’s exactly what it is, is unfair because a defendant who pleads guilty to all counts should be able to trust that the verdict handed down will end the matter, and that the state will not manufacture a way to get a second, harsher sentence delivered later. It is futile, because the crime of intoxication assault is obviously less serious than manslaughter, and for Boyd to sentence Couch to jail time for injuring his two (partially responsible and certifiably reckless) injured passengers when she chose not to jail him for the deaths of the four innocent people he ran down when his truck went out of control would be an admission that her first sentence was wrong, and thus rank hypocrisy. Obviously, the chances that she will make herself look like a fool when she’s already being accused of being one is nil.
Shannon’s tactic is irresponsible, because it will re-kindle public outrage and distrust of the justice system just as the controversy is calming down and out of the news. In essence, he is making the system look worse so he can look better, and claim that he did everything, tried everything, fought til the last dog died to get that murderous rich kid behind bars, when in truth he is just grandstanding, and throwing the judge under the bus, where so many people would like to see her. Finally, this is probably unconstitutional because it creeps perilously close to double jeopardy, and any new sentence from the judge probably would be overturned on that basis.
That’s six wrongs in one flamboyant, desperate legal maneuver doomed to failure—pretty impressive, when you think about it—all to try to make right a sentence that armchair jurists and lazy journalists have pronounced as an offense against justice. But Joe Shannon’s mother surely taught him that two wrongs don’t make a right. He should know, and I suspect he does, that seven wrongs won’t either.
Source: Dallas News