Drunk Driving Teen Avoids Jail Because of the Parenting He Received

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Ben Noey Jr. / The Fort Worth Star-Telegram / AP

Cars drive past the scene of a fatal wreck that killed four people in Burleson, Texas.

Is bad parenting an excuse for murder?

That’s what Scott Brown, attorney for Ethan Couch and an expert witness psychologist, implied when he used the term “affluenza” to argue against intoxication manslaughter and assault charges for his client. Couch, 16, was on trial after he stole beer from a Walmart last summer, got drunk at a party, and gunned his car into four victims who had stopped on the side of a Burleson, Tex. road to help a stranded motorist. All four died, and both passengers in Couch’s pickup truck who were riding in the open bed were tossed from the vehicle; one is unable to move or talk due to brain injuries.

But even though Couch was behind the wheel, it wasn’t he, argued psychologist G. Dick Miller, who should bear the burden of punishment for the tragedy. Instead, it was his parents, who raised their boy with few limits and even less discipline, indulging him to the point where he was unable to appreciate the importance of rules and laws, not to mention the consequences of breaking them.

Brown and Miller may have twisted the term a bit – affluenza more often refers to overconsumption and materialism, or the general psychological malaise, lack of motivation and guilt that wealthy young people feel as a result of their extreme privilege. Brown and Miller took it further, to incorporate the lack of accountability and belief among entitled rich kids that money can solve all problems.

Their definition placed the blame at the feet of Couch’s parents, who, according to CNN, allowed their son to drink at age 13. “There are certain things that society expects from parents in terms of providing for their children,” says Dr. Cindy Christian, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ committee on child abuse and neglect. “Children need physical things – food, clothing, shelter and education. And they need nurturing, love and discipline. Parents are responsible for teaching their children right from wrong.”

Couch’s defense argued that his parents did not fulfill this responsibility adequately; could that be considered neglect, or even abuse? “If you think of what children need, and what parents are supposed to be providing, then yes, theoretically you could make the argument that [such parenting] is neglectful,” says Christian, who chairs the child abuse and neglect prevention program at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

But who should be held accountable for that deficit? Regardless of what may have contributed to the behavior, Couch broke laws, and Christian points out that even adolescents need to understand the consequences of that. Over-indulgent parents still don’t absolve their child of responsibility for his actions. Christian says at the other end of the spectrum, for example, children brought up in extreme poverty, who experience documented developmental deficits from the stress of not growing up in stable households and not receiving consistent, high quality nurturing, aren’t allowed to use their toxic childhood environments as a defense when they commit crimes. “It’s a false argument at any level,” says Dr. Benjamin Siegel, professor pediatrics and psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine of the idea that Couch should not be accountable for his actions. “All people, and even kids, have got to be responsible for their behavior. And it starts early, in first grade.”

Miller testified that Couch should not be jailed, but treated for the results of his parents’ poor judgment. He recommended keeping the teen away from his parents for one year, and the juvenile court judge presiding over the case agreed, sentencing him to a rehabilitation facility and 10 years of probation. But since the court system strives for justice, would jail have been a more just consequence for Couch’s affluenza? “[The judge] fashioned a sentence that is going to keep Ethan under the thumb of the justice system for the next 10 years,” Brown said to CNN affiliate KTVT. “And if Ethan doesn’t do what he’s supposed to do, if he has one misstep at all, then this judge, or an adult judge when he’s transferred, can then incarcerate him.”

Wealth and the sense of privilege that it brings, however, are a hard habit to break. Couch’s father has agreed to pay the $450,000 bill for his rehabilitation program.

25 comments
MollySkyar
MollySkyar

This is a classic case of neglect; both on the parents and the teen's side. Yes, this child most likely has not been taught to take responsibility for his actions, but when it comes to a crime, it's important that proper authority figures take it upon themselves to provide some sort of instruction. A recent conversation with Dr. Susan Rutherford (clinical psychologist) and educator Annie Fox brings to light that professional help should have been sought at the time of this teen's first offense. Maybe if their family line sof communication had been more open this tragedy could have been avoided: http://ConversationsWithMyMother.com/teenager-acting-out-what-to-do/

kevin009
kevin009

How do you teach a spoiled 16 year-old boy about the consequences of his actions? You take him to a fancy "rehab" where he will learn that there are no consequences for the rich.

sophielacey2308
sophielacey2308

but having said that it is completely ridiculous that having money excuses crimes. This was a horrible tragedy and that boy should be disciplined, but prison for a 16 year old will ruin him and he will come out a hardened, tortured man. 

sophielacey2308
sophielacey2308

sending someone to jail is sentencing them to rape and torture- at least 20,000 prisoners get raped every year and thats not even accounting for those who do not report. Our prison system is even more corrupt and messed up than our legal system. and by sentencing a non violent criminal to prison you are setting them up for a lifetime of psychological trauma, even one month in prison can mean 2 weeks of rape and abuse by other prisoners and guards alike, so even a short sentence can fundamentally change a person. Only cold blooded killers and rapists deserve to be raped and tortured in our prisons. no teenage boy belongs in prison unless he is a sociopathic rapist and murderer 

paparachito
paparachito

I think parents should face time in jail for such horrible parenting and get some parenting lessons as well and the kid should go to a correctional facility where rehab is included, after he becomes sober to pay time in jail for his act (after all he was drunk, not conscious when driving, tho he stole the beer while conscious). Whatever, justice is done in a weird way sometimes. Truth is that if jail worked at all, those coming out wouldnt go back to their crimes, yet most do.

cnmalcantara
cnmalcantara

"his parents, who raised their boy with few limits and even less discipline, indulging him to the point where he was unable to appreciate the importance of rules and laws, not to mention the consequences of breaking them."... PRECISELY that is what the jail or juvenile facility do: discipline, to appreciate the importance of rules and laws, and the consequences of breaking them... If parents can't do em the juvenile facility (jail) will

victoria123
victoria123

Let's assume this is a real psychiatric illness (not that I think it is) wouldn't the treatment for this be being treated like anyone else who kills someone after drinking and driving by going to jail  instead of letting them buy their freedom via a cushy rehab center? Essentially the court said he had no discipline and so instead of getting a just punishment he should get away scot-free. Even those that really are mentally ill don't get such easy treatment. 

chris519117
chris519117

Has anyone noticed the parents names are never mentioned.  What are their names?  Where are their pictures?  Make them known and make their lives as difficult as the parents that lost their children.  Obviously their money has kept them out of the spotlight.  They should brought to light so they suffer the humiliation of bring up such a POS kid.

Bilosopher
Bilosopher

He will never successfully complete probation. He's in the 'spider's web' now.

BorisIII
BorisIII

I think jail should just be a correctional facility not a punishment facility.  But if a person can get out of jail due to bad parenting then most serial killers, rapist, etc. should be set free.  Judges are suppose to be able to walk the fine line with their decisions.  But I I've known and read about a lot of judges over the years that where also nut cases.

JamesGordon1
JamesGordon1

Under this  assumption  ,for the  rest of  his  life he is  not  responsible for  anything  he  ever  does ,  So  why  say if  he  makes another  misstep he  will got  to  jail?  I think  the  real  sick  person  here is  the  judge , And  the real  victims  here are  the  families  that have to  see another injustice  done .And  of  course all of  us  suffer whether it  is  O J  Simpson , Zimmerman . or  this  drunk,,when  evil  wins , we all lose ..I believe  in the  justice  system a little  less today, than i  believed in it  yesterday.

leonvang
leonvang

Great- put the parents behind bars and  I hope lawsuits strip them of everything they own. 100 hours of community service for this kid haling garbage would be highly appropriate.

columbare1
columbare1

We have a justice system for the rich and a separate justice system for the poor.   And there is a distinction between the two,the poor go to jail and the rich if they are convicted go to rehab,  and then are quickly cured so it seems.

athiesttoo
athiesttoo

His parents should be stripped of everything they own, and put behind bars after they are both sterilized so they can never reproduce scum like this again.

uprightbiped
uprightbiped

I'm fine with this. After he completes his rehab he can go directly into a juvenile group home or foster care, seeing as how his parents are so desperately unfit to raise children. If his folks have any other children in the home, they can be stripped of custody of them as well.

GregoryFisher
GregoryFisher

Affluenza???  What a load of horse cr*p!  

gamerzap
gamerzap

However, I do agree 20 years in prison, while a fitting punishment, would probably not have been the best option for this situation. Ethan should have received a strict punishment that would have taught him his actions have the same consequences as everyone else without causing him even more psychological harm.

gamerzap
gamerzap

Well, according to the defense he has a psychological condition ("affluenza") that causes a lack of conscience, and he killed 4 people, so that WOULD make him a sociopathic murderer...

paparachito
paparachito

@cnmalcantaraObviously the juvenile facilities dont help, because they come out of them in a worst state, where they share experiences from others wrong doers and learn other bad things.


JamesGordon1
JamesGordon1

@columbare1 I have  to  agree ,  there is NO  way ever  some  young  black  kid  could have  done  this and  got  off . IF  you  believe  a  black kid could  have  had the  same  results , You  should contact a mental  Dr    immediately 

JamesGordon1
JamesGordon1

@uprightbiped maybe  we  should  test all  children to  see if  they have  fit  parents  and  remove  kids  from bad  homes  now , Then  maybe  4  other  innocent  people  will not  be  killed and  have  the  murderer  go  free , I  pray GOD deals  with this  young  man  swiftly ,before  he  kills  others .

cohara1103
cohara1103

You don't really believe he isnt going back to mom and dad, do you?

paparachito
paparachito

@JamesGordon1@uprightbipedDidnt your god keep a plan for everybody?. So basically, his plan was for those people to die at the hands of this unruly teen. If god didnt do anything with Hitler, why would he even bother with a kid.

JWIII
JWIII

@JamesGordon1 @uprightbiped WHAT?? You pray God deals..... following your logic, where was God when the accident happened?  Following your logic, God then must have caused the deaths and other injuries, for some divine reason?  Leaving this up to God, just is not productive.