Ethics Observations On My 2013 Ethics Observations On The “Affluenza” Sentence, Now That The Teen Sociopath Is On The Lam

Ethan Couch

Ethan Couch

You may recall the so-called “Affluenza” case of 2013, which I wrote about here.

Ethan Couch a Texas teenager from a rich family, killed four people in a drunken-driving crash (he also had no license) and crippled a friend riding with him. Instead of jail time, the 16-year-old was given probation mandating expensive counseling and treatment by a judge who found herself vilified far and wide. Now this, from his lawyers, Reagan Wynn and Scott Brown:

“We have recently learned that, for the last several days, the juvenile probation officer has been unable to make contact with Ethan or his mother with whom he has been residing.”

A video surfaced showing Couch playing beer pong, which is a violation of probation that could send him to prison. The assumption is that he had fled to avoid that result, and may have even left the country. The Washington Post reports that The FBI and U.S. Marshals Service have joined the search for Couch, who is now considered a fugitive.

So, I am asked, how do the Ethics Alarms observations on the original sentence stand now, since it is clear that the judge’s attempt to reform Ethan without locking him up has failed?

The answer is, having read what I wrote initially again, that I wouldn’t retract a word.

Here’s what I wrote, and my comments now:

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.

This still is true. The fact that hindsight bias now shows that her sentence didn’t accomplish the desired results does not prove that it was indefensible based on what she knew when she made it.

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.

Again, this is still correct. The lawyer did his zealous best for his client. He is not responsible in any way for the client’s subsequent conduct.

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.

Amazingly, the news media  is still misrepresenting the case by flogging the “affluenza” angle. Here’s what the Times story says…

“Two years ago, a Texas teenager who killed four people in a drunken-driving crash was given probation after a defense witness suggested he suffered from “affluenza,” a term used to describe psychological problems that can afflict children from wealthy families.”

As with the news reporting in 2013, this deceitfully suggests that the “affluenza” defense was influential in prompting the lenient sentence. Yes, the sentence occurred “after” the presentation of the “affluenza” defense; it also occured after the 2013 World Series. The fallacy is called post hoc ergo propter hoc, and sadly, most people fall for it regularly. The news media is supposed to teach them otherwise, not encourage logical fallacies.

Here is the willfully stupid Above the Law Headline:

“So Maybe This Affluenza Thing Really Was B.S. — Arrest Warrant Issued”

Anyone who thinks Couch’s conduct has any bearing on the “affluenza” theory’s validity at all has no business writing about law, policy, or anything that involves basic logic.

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.

This is essentially the point I just made above.

4. (cont.) 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.

The fact that it didn’t work in this case doesn’t mean her reasoning was wrong.

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.

True then, and importantly true now that Couch has violated probation.

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.

Nothing has changed that would make me alter this.

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 her answer to that question is yes.

This is not germane to the new developments.

To sum up, the fact that any sentence doesn’t work the way a judge hopes proves nothing, other than that the sentence didn’t work. Most sentences don’t “work,” with the exception of the death sentence, which at least makes sure the murder executed won’t kill again. I didn’t agree with the light sentence Judge Boyd gave Couch, but unlike many sentences analyzed here, it wasn’t indefensible, and certainly didn’t deserve the kind of furious condemnations it received at the time. The sentence might have turned out well, with Couch taking advantage of his second chance and becoming a model citizen…and if that happened, it wouldn’t have proven that Boyd’s compassionate sentence was right, either.

The time to analyze whether a decision is ethical is when it is made and only then, because what occurs afterwards had no impact on that decision. Our tendency to judge past decisions by subsequent events that the decision maker had no control over is consequentialism and consequentialism makes us timid, superstitious and dumb.

Of course nothing I wrote in 2013 is changed by what Ethan Couch has done now.

67 thoughts on “Ethics Observations On My 2013 Ethics Observations On The “Affluenza” Sentence, Now That The Teen Sociopath Is On The Lam

    • No…. his probation was breached… Who would have appealed the decision? I seem to remember that at the time, both the prosecution and the defense were relatively happy with the outcome, and it was the ignorant masses who didn’t care to figure out what the ruling meant that was really unhappy.

      • This person should never have been given the responsibility of being a Judge. The following statement is basically reversing her stand…she tells Couch that it is HE who is responsible not his parents, but her ruling is that the PARENTS were responsible. 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.THIS JUDGE IS NOT SEEKING REELECTION OR ELSE SHE WOULD NOT HAVE MADE THIS BIASED RULING. SHE WAS BOUGHT.

        • I, CERTAINLY, agree with your comment. She should be prosecuted. This ” punk ” should have been given the maximum sentence (whatever it is). He feels NO remorse for murdering 4 people and the crooked judge, obviously, feels no remorse for the sentence (if) one could call it a ” sentence “. I wish someone would slap her off the bench.

          • Ugh. What a ridiculous comment. the judge should be prosecuted for a sentence you don’t like. Law, please. Or do you think the US just prosecutes anyone without any law being violated?

            That’s too dumb for Ethics Alarms. Do better next time.

            • Once again our so called ” legal system ” is designed for the rich…IF THIS WAS ANYONE ELSE, THE OUTCOME WOULD HAVE BEEN DIFFERENT…Ask yourself Jerk ( Jack ) if this was YOUR Family, would you still feel the same way?? I highly doubt it!!

              • You highly doubt it because you have the IQ of a sea sponge, would be my guess. This kind of moronic comment doesn’t make the cut: you’re banned for the double offense of insulting your superior in his house, but mostly for proving yourself too dumb and ethically ignorant to explore here.

                Bye. Enjoy The News Nerd.

  1. Just as Judge Boyd should not have been lenient (and probably wasn’t) simply because this kid was rich; neither should she have “thrown the book at him”, just because he was rich. His being rich should never have entered into the equation and, frankly, I have seen no evidence that it did. As nearly as I can tell, Boyd’s only culpability was in trying to keep a 16-year-old kid from having a screwed up life. It’s regrettable that she did not succeed.

  2. I’m really trying to understand this judge’s reasoning: The kid gets drunk and kills four people and gets probation? I think some time in juve would have cured him of affluenza real quick.

    • She didn’t agree that he had “affluenza.” His parents could afford it, so instead of sending him to jail for ten years, she required extensive therapy, and probation so if he showed he wasn’t working at becoming human, he’d get ten years anyway. It might have worked. It didn’t. Now he’s going to prison.

      • Now he’s going to prison.

        For one probation violation? How many did Lindsay Lohan score?

        A lawyer who I greatly respect wrote the following:
        It is what drove me out of criminal law. The prosecutors have the edge against poor defendants, who get sub-par (often) representation. Then as soon as the prosecutors really get good, they accept big bucks to represent white collar criminals and deep pocket defendants against themselves, minus 15 years of experience. Darrow had over 100 capital cases, and not one of his clients was ever sentenced to death. It is not a fair system when so much depends on how good the advocates are.

        Putting a mere boy in prison (for IIRC he will remain a juvenile until “handed over” in person in court even if he’s 45) – solely for being late (OK, 15 years late) for a single probation meeting because his mother took him for a holiday to Disneyland (or Costa Rica, the Cote d’Azur, Monte Carlo etc) is unconscionable.

        I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a carefully laid out legal strategy here..
        Certainly the selling of home, furniture etc indicates considerable prior planning.

        Laws are for the little people.

        • “It is not a fair system when so much depends on how good the advocates are.”

          This has to be analyzed ENTIRELY in separate cases:

          Is a super experienced prosecutor MORE likely to achieve a conviction than a less experienced prosecutor?

          Yes? So what? Justice is served, as a good prosecutor and a less experienced one ultimately have the same evidence / testimony to work with…so if an *actual* guilty person get’s off because of a less experienced prosecutor, that’s fine… our system is designed to ERR that direction.

          Is a super experienced defense attorney MORE likely to achieve an acquittal than a less experience defender?

          Maybe, again, so what…the system is meant to err that direction. This may only become problematic if we encounter a less experienced defender working to acquit an *actually* innocent person. Is there an increased possibility of a false conviction? Maybe…but then again, there are so many protections and checks in the system erring on the side of case dismissal that these instances should be at a near minimum.

          Based on the wording of your beef, however, it doesn’t seem like you have an issue with convictions/acquittals being affected by lawyer experience but rather with the sentencing phase and whether or not a convicted person gets a harsher sentence or a more lenient one.

        • Now he’s going to prison.

          For one probation violation? How many did Lindsay Lohan score?

          When one has killed four people, showed no remorse, and crippled a friend, probation is a test: are you capable of towing the line, even when the consequences of not doing so ae disastrous? He’s a kid who has always gotten away with everything, he’s almost an adult, he has to learn fast, or not at all. One violation is enough: it proves he belongs in jail.

          Lindsay didn’t kill anyone. Yes, she belonged in jail, at least for a while, but she’s not a good comp.

          A lawyer who I greatly respect wrote the following:
          It is what drove me out of criminal law. The prosecutors have the edge against poor defendants, who get sub-par (often) representation. Then as soon as the prosecutors really get good, they accept big bucks to represent white collar criminals and deep pocket defendants against themselves, minus 15 years of experience. Darrow had over 100 capital cases, and not one of his clients was ever sentenced to death. It is not a fair system when so much depends on how good the advocates are.

          Yup. That’s exactly what soured me on criminal law too. It’s an adversary system, and the market system works: you get what you pay for, which means what you can afford to pay for. When Darrow was in his prime, he charged twice or more what any other lawyer could get.

          Putting a mere boy in prison (for IIRC he will remain a juvenile until “handed over” in person in court even if he’s 45) – solely for being late (OK, 15 years late) for a single probation meeting because his mother took him for a holiday to Disneyland (or Costa Rica, the Cote d’Azur, Monte Carlo etc) is unconscionable.

          What? Playing beer pong was the first violation. Going on the lam and not reporting in was the 2nd, 3rd…it makes no difference who he is with or where he went. Unconscionable? He’s told, by a judge, do this, or you go to jail. It’s like Pete Rose: he knew the consequences, and he did it anyway.

          I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a carefully laid out legal strategy here..
          Certainly the selling of home, furniture etc indicates considerable prior planning.

          Yes, we now know why young Couch is the way he is.

          Laws are for the little people.

          The law is running the kid out of the country. I wouldn’t call that leniency.

          • That’s exactly what soured me on criminal law too.

            You didn’t recognise your own words?

            Re: Beer Pong – it’s not entirely clear when and where this incident took place. If it was in the rehab facility – which I fear it might be… then Roh Roh.

            Any competent lawyer could cast doubt that he was in the video, and suggest there’s no evidence that the liquid was alcoholic.

            (BTW I’d never heard of “Beer Pong” before, and am still not clear on what it entails. Might be a cultural difference, or maybe my sheltered life)

            However, too many witnesses with good reason to step forward whether he was there or not, and whether alcohol was at the Par TAY or not. If that was going on inside a State Rehab facility due to “undue influence” then the court of public opinion would crucify him.

            He ran. Mom is missing. Dad is co-operating fully with the police – at least, that’s the official story. Colour me sceptical. (Or since it’s the US, color me skeptical).

            I’m sure he’s shocked, shocked I tell you.

            One final point – “Sheriff Dee Anderson said Couch is now the top fugitive his investigators are trying to find.”

            No rapists? Armed bandits? Just a kid who’s REALLY unpopular (for you know… killing 4 people … but even then).

            Yes, we now know why young Couch is the way he is.

            Money quote. But that was obvious from day one.

            The law is running the kid out of the country. I wouldn’t call that leniency.

            Is there a statute of limitations on juveniles? Besides which, much as the US is a nice place to visit, I wouldn’t want to live there. Maybe in Portland Oregon, but even there, the geology gives me a Bad Feeling.

            Extradition proceedings can be delayed almost indefinitely with enough money. I don’t see Interpol giving the case a high priority, so as long as he doesn’t spend more than 2-3 months consecutively in any one country, skipping before the extradition process gets past first base, in practice he’s Scot-Free – if he’s sensible.

            He’s not sensible though.

            • “Any competent lawyer could cast doubt that he was in the video, and suggest there’s no evidence that the liquid was alcoholic.” I doubt that. A judge’s discretion regarding whether probation conditions have been violated is the standard, not “beyond a reasonable doubt.” If the judge thinks it’s him, it’s him. Similarly with beer pong, which is a drinking game. Literally nobody plays beer pong without beer.

              As far as probation goes, it doesn’t matter where the violation took place. No, it isn’t at all certain that this violation would lead to a full sentence, but it might. Heading for the border, though, would.

            • “BTW I’d never heard of “Beer Pong” before, and am still not clear on what it entails. Might be a cultural difference, or maybe my sheltered life”

              You fill red solo cups with beer and you put them on a ping pong table, and then you play ping pong and if the ball landing in a cup on your side of the table, you drink that cup. Scoring is… relative. At best.

    • I remember having this conversation with my husband when this thing hit the news. My husband is a retired sergeant of 22 years who spent a number of those years in DUI & Traffic Homicide. In his opinion, this judge actually handed down a much harsher sentence than just sending him off to juvenile or even adult prison. And now that this kid is on the lam? He’s screwed. He’ll end up doing more time than he ever would have in the first place.

    • Sociopathy should now be taken as an excuse for anything, as a sociopath has the full capability for logic, ethics, and understanding of the law. Most sociopaths live normal, law-abiding lives and are almost impossible to tell apart from neurotypical people.

      • I’m not excusing it. In fact I think if a sociopath is found to be repeatedly breaking the law as this kid is, with obvious disdain for the system, and the means to get special treatment, it’s even more important to keep them away from people in general. His mother has some obvious issues as well.

      • True. The key difference is that a normal person can be guided by conscience, whereas the sociopath must be coerced with fear of punishment. They usually learn, eventually, if they’re not killed or imprisoned long-term first. I don’t envy these people. It must be a hollow existence.

  3. I might just repeat something I wrote on the original story. It’s still true (though here I’m not sure Jack *is* wrong in his post)

    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.

      • I wrote:
        Let’s just say that had a rehab centre been one chosen by professionals in the Texas Juvenile Justice system, or one with a proven track record of success within the Texas jurisdiction, where progress could be monitored, I would have had a very different view.

        I have grave misgivings as to the practicality of the sentence. If the perp misbehaves while in rehab – who is the guardian? Who gets to decide what to report to the Texas Juvenile Justice system? How long must he stay in rehab? 30 days? 2 years? Until judged “rehabilitated”, and if so, by who?

        After that – what are the probation conditions, and who will be appointed to monitor them? There are obvious jurisdictional issues, especially with an unemancipated minor. When he reaches his majority, the situation changes again.

        Under these circumstances, the fact that the perp has access to great wealth and the best legal representation money can buy to run interference means I have no confidence that rehabilitation is the object here.

        Under other circumstances, things would be different, but the cumulative effect of a luxury treatment centre, out of state, one chosen by his parents, with so many practical jurisdictional difficulties in ensuring or even monitoring compliance with conditions means that I find the sentence unsafe.

        The Judge in the event did not accept the recommendation for the “California Country Club”, and the miscreant was instead sent to a very different Texas rehab facility, with his probation closely monitored. So I withdrew my objections, as I had now a “very different view”.

        To that degree, the system worked. If rehabilitation failed, he’d likely be caught. He was.

        However, “the perp has access to great wealth and the best legal representation money can buy to run interference”. So we proceed to the next step in this sorry saga.

        Basically, I’m now in violent agreement with you, this post of yours is spot on. Where we differ is that I think you underestimate the power of money and influence in that part of Texas, but that’s something where only time will tell.

        I also see a fundamental injustice, not that this scrote was given the opportunity, for in some countries it’s the norm, but that in the USA only the rich are.

  4. Once again, the unethical behavior at issue is not so much the subject of the story (freighted with enough points of legal, social and psychological wrangling to enter the realm of folklore), it’s the handling of the story itself by The Media, the people who invent fear and excitement for the headlines, and who choose which chunks of fact to cut out and cook up to sell to the public via whatever medium passes for their “papers” these days.

    Affluenza is not the heading for a story that’s “edited for space,” or a news byte, or a “subjective” by defiinition biased op-ed piece, or a good hook for a book, a movie or a tv series episode … it’s just a lie that ran away with the bit in its teeth. It’s the worst temptation for a journalist — and it looks like most of them are giving in to it — to present the story they know to be a best case scenario for BLMs to bolster their absolutist claims of victimhood against an absolute rich-white-killer-runs-free. If they haven’t thought of it yet, they will. What was meant by the judgement against Ethan Couch for a particular crime to begin with, and however the story turns out, will make not one whit of difference in the end, . . .

    no more than it did in the 1978 case of Dan White, the All-American straight guy who “got away with” the premeditated reliably-witnessed murders of a City Supervisor andthe Mayor of San Francisco … because, according to the snappy headlines and sparsely detailed press reports, his clever lawyers convinced a gullible jury of his innocence, a judge accepted the argument and gave him a slap on the wrist, and he was out and home thumbing his nose in no time, all on the basis of diminished capacity because his mind was affected by too much junk food. Truth is, the defendant acted with premeditation, deliberation and the specific intent to kill, i.e., first degree murder (he confessed later to a police officer that he had had two more victims in mind before he was caught), but all it took was one reporter’s blaming the catchy “Twinkie defense” for the “diminished capacity” verdict. And then one columnist, and on up through the nation’s press to Newsweek, and back to California’s electorate, resulting in the abolition of the defense of “diminshed capacity” by referendum (the single silver lining). And there it stays, a permanent place in legal legend.

    It’s a fascinating saga of myth overtaking reality and leaving it entirely in the sugary dust. I was reminded of it because a friend of mine recently visiting friends in Berlin said one of the guests, a German attorney, brought it up at a dinner party as an example of “creative lawyering.” When my friend said it was a reporter’s invention, the attorney responded with “condescending assurance” that he had read of it 30 years ago in law school so it must be true and hadn’t one of the American Supreme Court Justices used it? Well, as it turned out, one had. I found two instances of the “Twinkie defense” becoming such a common term that one state lawmaker had waved a Twinkie in the air while making his point during a debate … and “During oral Supreme Court arguments in United States v. Gonzalez-Lopez, 548 U.S. 140 (2006), Justice Antonin Scalia referred to the Twinkie defense with regard to the right to counsel of choice as perhaps more important than the right to effective assistance of counsel.”

    FYI – a pop article that pretty much covers it:
    http://www.sfgate.com/health/article/Myth-of-the-Twinkie-defense-The-verdict-in-2511152.php

    I’m betting, though I’d rather not win in this case, that Affluenza — covering the tale of another white All-American boy type, thus born affirmitively activated, virtually unpunished as far as simplistic justice is concerned (don’t-do-no-time-for-the-crime = get away with murder) — is on its way to becoming the target of pointing fingers and disparagement: black, white, academic, and PC Left in particular, plus anyone ignorant enough to believe there’s no space between the lines of the popular press.

  5. Thanks for the follow-up perspectives, Jack … re-filling in all the details and making fresh analyses. And to Zoebrain for reminding me how worthwhile it is, once in a while, to argue a point with one’s bias firmly in check. Or in cheek, as the case may be.

  6. “Judge Boyd told the victims’ families that no sentence would lessen their pain.”

    I’m curious as to your stance on practicing psychology without a license (or presumably any training).

    It is conceivable that real psychological harm could come from judicial pronouncements such as the above by Judge Boyd. E.g. cognitive dissonance in those who do respond as Boyd says they wouldn’t (lessening of pain on increasingly harsh sentences against those they feel have wronged them), but who also believe that the judge’s pronouncement is Truth.

      • Stated as a fact.

        If I would see any change I would see her acknowledge that her sentence may cause them further pain, or may not be enough to lessen their pain, but is made in the best interests of all society. Else I see no objective reason why she should have the power to adjudicate, save the might-makes-right power of the State.

        One of the greatest causes of pain in the world is the actions we take based on the lies we tell our selves about the world (and those in it).

        True impartiality is necessary in the courts, not a false impartiality.

        • In law, we call such statements dicta. They are just non material stuff. The judge was trying to be nice, that’s all. Why you see such significance in this is beyond me. Of course the judge doesn’t know for certain what will or won’t heal the parents pain…neither do the parents themselves, in all likelihood. So what? The parents’ pain is 100% irrelevant to the justice system. What parents of a victim want or don’t want is not a factor in the verdict, the trial or the sentence. The judge is not obligated to acknowledge the family at all.

          You may have a point, but you picked a lousy example on which to base it.

          • “The judge is not obligated to acknowledge the family at all. ”

            As a matter of law can you tell me why “the best interests of society” is how our criminal justice system works? Is it in counter-point to civil/tort law presumably being in the best interests of the wronged (with society seen as irrelevant)?

            I can guess at wergeld being the reason that only financial compensation can come of a civil/tort suit (unless it is relatively straight-forward to make the wronged whole), but have no idea as to the origins or justifications of the rest of the system. And oddly enough I am a born US citizen and did fine in US and World History (what passes for civics in this era).
            —–
            Maybe not, but she did acknowledge the family, and potentially wronged them in the doing of it.

            I see significance in it the way a cruise passenger will see significance in a little bit of floating ice. It superficially indicates something I see as a profound wrong – a person not acknowledging the limitations of their discernment. And yes, this happens all the time (I do it plenty), but the greater a person’s sanctioned authority and responsibility the more problematic I see it (when done in their realm of required diligence).

            • 1. Society makes laws, and criminals who violate laws offend and threaten society. Society is the offended, society is the aggrieved. That’s why civil suits are also allowed by the victims or their families. Heard of “paying one’s debt to society”? That’s the point.

              2. How does a statement of sympathy wrong them, or anybody?

              3. You’re seeing things that aren’t there.

              • 1) Outside of places like Appenzell Innerrhoden and Glarus, and possible initiative and referendum in this nation, this is obviously not true. But fine, I truly do want to know so will continue looking elsewhere as curiosity strikes.

                2) By asserting (simplex dictum, I guess) an authoritative worldview toward them, though I acknowledge in this particular case the likely humanitarian impulse behind the statement (“the road to hell”, and all that). It also has the pernicious effect of justifying the societal orientation of our legal system to the judge herself.

                3) Perhaps, but this isn’t shown.

                • 1. This makes no sense to me at all. I am hardly stating an eccentric view of the law. The prosecution is called the State because he or she represents the State, vs the defendant. The victims aren’t parties. The objective is not to make them whole, or provide vengeance. The purpose is to uphold order and civilized standards.

                  2. How is “nothing can remove your pain” more authoritative than “you can’t rooler skate in a buffalo herd”?

                  3. It’s always hard for someone else to prove someone is seeing things that aren’t there.

                  • 1) Ok, that’s fine, you’ve distinguished between the state (a political apparatus with historical roots) and society (the whole of a people *currently existing* within a state). That works for me. Obviously our society has never voted on the Constitution or English Common Law, except for very specific modifications, simply because the people making up our society were not alive then, and our state has traditionally created and currently enforces policy pertaining to the modification of the laws of our state which effectively prohibit (via gridlock) more than minor alterations to said laws.

                    Still, in our society at least, a judge could very rarely render rulings “for the good of the state” due to the communist and nazi imagery such a phrase would raise in the general populace. So they instead say, “for the good of society”, which leads to the confusion I had here.

                    2) It’s not, except that it comes from a position of empowered authority. And at least somewhat is justification for the rulings of said authority. E.g. A utilitarian could make the argument that if a particular sentence would make all of the victims and their families feel better, then it would be the right thing to do if society was not otherwise harmed. But since it doesn’t (the judge’s obiter dicta[?] in this case), then the current apparatus is not unjust in making another sentence.

                    3) Yes. From my point of view, too. 🙂 This is a reason why we humans tend to write people, or arguments, off at a certain point.

                  • Crap, kind of misread your part 1.

                    I believe part of the objective of civil law is to make the victims whole or provide a certain form of relief through vengeance, yes? Thus my earlier question as to the origins of the dichotomy between civil and criminal courts/law in our nation.

  7. I find your theory half baked. Your ignoring like most people the real guarentee of the bill of rights. Equal protection under the law as it apllies to a courtroom is supposed to mean equal apllication aswell. A few years earlier this same judge sentenced a 16 year old to 20 years in prison for the death of a passenger when he was in a dwi crash. The on scene BAC .11,
    Both subjects white. Now little shoukd be dead brat! Kills four maims 5, three of which will never walk again. Hours afterward BAC .24, he was thrice convicted of DUI without a licesnce and underage. I know people who recieved harsher sentences for a DUI alone. This judge does not apply the law evenly. One death for a first time offender 20 years as an adult. Fourth time offender four dead zero appology 10 years probi. My response to the affluenza defence would have been contempt of court for the lawyer. The teen well about time he lears there are consequences. If we were truely just we would simply break his spine so he might understand what his victims suffer. Indeed the worst he faces is ten years. Pathetic, younger people have gotten more for theft. Which let us NOT forget he had commited just hours before he destroyed 7 people.

    • There is no “theory” at all. I’m stating facts.

      You are stating nonsense. Whatever you think Equal Protection under the law means, I assure you it does not mean that judges have to give the same sentence to a juvenile drunk driver who commits manslaughter and a 20-year old.

      Race has nothing to do with it: one is a minor under the law, the other an adult. The cases are not the same. The position of the law is that juveniles ought to get greater consideration for mercy and leniency to minimize the damage to their lives from conduct that is at least in part the product of immaturity. The 20-year-old’s parents are irrelevant to sentencing; the home situation of a juvenile is very relevant. In short, there’s no comparison, and certainly no application of the Equal Protection clause.

      OK, you don’t understand the Constitution, the law, sentencing and the discretion of judges. Now you present this: “My response to the affluenza defense would have been contempt of court for the lawyer.” That means you don’t understand 1) what “contempt of court” is, and 2) what a defense lawyer does.

      Your “theory” isn’t even half baked: it’s not baked at all, and its ingredients are junk. You don’t have sufficient knowledge to have an opinion on this matter. You don’t know what you are talking about, even a little. That won’t fly here.

      Do better. Uninformed opinions are useless.

          • It was an apt quotation too.
            “Shallow and pedantic” is too kind to MacFarlane though — I just stuck out 16 bars of “The One I Love.” Like a good scout, I was prepared, and instantly overlaid Sinatra-with-Tommy Dorsey. You should be ashamed to bring him up (I almost did; I barely made it to the bathroom and managed to swallow, hard). Now I can’t watch any Family Guy for fear that insipid, off-key, smarmy … reminds me of Julius La Rosa doing Melody of Love … good God! they’re twins! No kidding. It’s scary.

      • Jack, I didn’t see an adult mentioned in Mike’s post. He did mention another 16 year old that received a 20 year sentence for a first time DUI offense that resulted in a death. It doesn’t seem that *that* particular juvenile received “greater consideration for mercy and leniency to minimize the damage to their lives from conduct that is at least in part the product of immaturity.” That 16 year old (Eric Bradlee Miller) had a court-appointed attorney, btw.

        • Yup, I mixed up the age and the sentence in that case. My mistake. I’ll do that sometimes when a comment is illiterate and eschews punctuation and grammar—I shouldn’t, but sloppy writing makes me pay less attention, because I really shouldn’t have to work so hard to read a comment,

          That said, the case is still a lousy analogy, and doesn’t prove anything. The 16 year old in that case 1) STOLE the truck, 2) left the scene after the accident (hit and run), and had nobody raising him but an elderly grandparent. Completely different facts, and the two sentences are not inconsistent.

          • One bought the alcohol and stole the truck, killing 1 person. Both the alcohol and truck were presumably approximately equal causal factors in the event.

            One stole the alcohol and borrowed a truck he shouldn’t ethically have borrowed (or even been allowed to borrow – since it was owned by his father’s company), killing 4 persons. Both the alcohol and truck were presumably approximately equal causal factors in the event.

            I don’t see why the capacity of one’s guardians should enter the picture. Certainly there were scouting organizations, Big Brother, parole offices, and other such agencies in the community which could provide equivalent guidance, oversight, and structure post-conviction.

            The absolute best argument I’ve seen from you (IIRC it was you) on the dichotomy between these sentences is the 10 year time span difference in which Judge Boyd changed her stance on sentencing in these cases.

            • The best argument is that they are two different cases, with different facts, different kids, and the judge, correctly or not, concluded that different treatments were justified.

              Of COURSE the guardian is relevant. If the kid is going to get no supervision and run wild, and that’s what the judge gleaned from the testimony,he has to be institutionalized. If he has two parents with a lot of money and they are ordered to pay to put him some place else, which they were, then that is an option not available to the other kid.

              • I believe it strikes at the foundation of our rule of law to make a sentence contingent on the actions of another. Whenever a society is in a position when it must do so it has more pressing issues.

                “they are ordered to pay to put him some place else”

                Disregarding my first point to argue this second point: But not for 20 years (less parole). If the parents had agree to put him someplace else, but then decided not to, what would have been the legal outcome?

                • 1. You’re grandstanding. When the sentencee is a minor, the family and home environment is always a factor, and ought to be.
                  2. They are in contempt of court, and the judge can do anything she wants to them–endless fines, jail time. They had to agree to pay for the treatment, and the kid was going to jail without that agreement.

                  • 1. But without good behavior the other minor in question will be 36 before his sentence ends. Two measly years makes a difference of 20.

                    I disagree in whole. This is to close to corruption of blood for me to see it as ethical regardless of the overlying disparate injustice.

                    2. And if they had died immediately after the sentence making Couch an effectively emancipated minor?

                    Sentences should not be contingent on the actions of others. Period.

                    • 1. Without good behavior, the sentence is validated!!!!
                      2. Well, you have a minority opinion out of sympathy with how sentencing has been reasoned for at least a couple centuries. Likelihood of rehabilitation, community ties, responsibilities, regard by others, family, likely success of the punishment, threat to others (which includes the influence of third parties) have always, at the judge’s discretion, been part of the sentencing equation.
                      3. “Sentences should not be contingent on the actions of others.” And all flowers should be blue. An assertion isn’t an argument.

                    • 1. Obviously. But a 20 year sentence would likewise have been validated for Couch in the identical circumstances.
                      2. “Likelihood of rehabilitation, responsibilities”

                      All that is fine.

                      “likely success of the punishment, threat to others (which includes the influence of third parties)”

                      This is very necessary.

                      “regard by others, family”

                      This is the status quo of 1000 year old Viking law. I thought we had advanced past this point.

                      “community ties”

                      And this has the effect of prejudicing for and against classes of people who cannot help their status (e.g. against those temperamentally non-affiliative, and for “good old boy” KKKers).

                      3. The bare basis of all law is not argument. It is a fundamental belief in what is right, necessary, or preferable (depending on how utilitarian or privilege-based the particular legal system is), and assertions therefore. If you believe otherwise then somewhere in your logic is an unexamined assumption.

                      I have asserted to you my bias. And I also assert that without equitability (the blind Lady Justice), a basic foundation of our Republic is unsupported.

                    • 1. Obviously. But a 20 year sentence would likewise have been validated for Couch in the identical circumstances.
                      WRONG. Hindsight bias, 100%.

                      2.And this has the effect of prejudicing for and against classes of people who cannot help their status (e.g. against those temperamentally non-affiliative, and for “good old boy” KKKers).

                      That’s the con argument, and I’m sympathetic to it, but that’s not the current state of sentencing guidelines.It depends on whether punishing the individual is more important than what is in the best interests of society as a whole. That’s an ethics conflict, and unresolvable.

                      3. The bare basis of all law is not argument. It is a fundamental belief in what is right, necessary, or preferable (depending on how utilitarian or privilege-based the particular legal system is), and assertions therefore. If you believe otherwise then somewhere in your logic is an unexamined assumption.

                      The basis of law is what conduct is in the best interest of both individuals and society, long and short term, according to the cultural values of that society. The abstract question of what is “right” is the realm of ethics, and that is a dynamic exercise.

                    • 1. Yes this is hindsight bias. But it is also a reason why legal rulings should take the fact that they cannot see the future into account.

                      I’m leery of statistically-generated sentences for other reasons, but at least they try to take this into account.

                      2. Thank you.

                      3. Thank you again. Though recent research questions whether US law as it is being written now is in the best interests of individuals and society ( http://press.princeton.edu/titles/8664.html , http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/usappblog/2013/10/01/senator-preferences-wealthy/ ); and since we cannot see into the minds of judges, there is also the possibility that this is what is going on in their courts as well (with post facto legal justification in their written/spoken decisions). This not being able to see into the hearts, minds, and guts of the legislators and judges is what makes equitable laws and equitable application of the law so important to the hoi polloi bulk of society (witness BLM – Black Lives Matters or Bureau of Land Management, take your pick).

  8. They found the punk and his madre loca bumming around in a Mexican resort. The government is filing extradition papers. Personally, I hope they just wind up in a Mexican prison and save us the trouble. Better yet, just stick Judge Boyd in the same roach infested jungle cell with her two compadres in law dodging. I think the parents of those four young people he destroyed would approve heartily.

    • Should he ever be extradited – a process that can take many months – the maximum penalty is imprisonment in an adult jail until he turns 19, on April 11th 2016.

      I expect him to serve no time at all in a US jail.

      Mexican jails are 5-star if you have the money or influence – assuming he’s not bailed.

      Twas ever thus – http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1989-07-24/news/8902190865_1_traffickers-prison-probe-drug-agent

      Without money and influence, worse even than some US private prisons, though at least you don’t end up tens of thousands of dollars in debt for food, accommodation, medical care etc.

      For which you can be imprisoned for not paying. It’s a nice money-earner, collecting from both taxpayers and prisoners.

      • American prisons aren’t and shouldn’t be five star resorts, Zoe. But to compare them to your standard third world hellhole is something of a stretch! If you’re a rich guy and/or drug lord you’re going to have better “accommodations”, of course. But it really doesn’t matter. If your high priced lawyers don’t spring you soon, your people will either bribe the guards or dig a tunnel right into your cell with a nice rail car to carry you out in style! BTW: It looks as if A-Boy’s momma is already being extradited. Maybe things will work more quickly this time.

  9. Judges are not infallible to bad decisions and poor judgement. Money is was motivated Judge Jean Boyd. She was wrong in her decision to give this boy only probation for killing four people and injuring so many others. When you compare similar cases she has handed down much harsher sentences then you might convince me money was not her motivation. We are lucky she retired. We don’t need judges like her.

  10. That picture isn’t even of Ethan Couch, you moron! If you can’t even accurately depict your story, it makes it really hard to take you seriously!

    • It sure is, you jerk. Do some research before you start insulting your superiors. His recent pictures show him with dark hair, in disguise, since he was on the lam, dim-wit. Teens change. You are banned for that insulting and idiotic entree, of course, but I’ll allow this one through so I can properly berate you as your ignorant arrogance deserves. Ass. Which is what the A stand for, correct?

  11. How about the Black teen, Eric Miller, 16, who was driving a truck while drunk, killed ONE person & was given 20 years in PRISON by Judge Jean Boyd?

    Of course, his family wasn’t rich like Ethan Couch’s family, so they couldn’t use the *affluenza* defense.

    I wonder when fancy pants rich boy Ethan Couch was sentenced if they even took the 2 cases of beer he & his friends stole from Walmart into consideration?

    I wonder how many other young kids were given prison sentences by Judge Jean Boyd? Couch sure wasn’t! Money talks, justice doesn’t really matter in some courts!

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