Is Teen's 'Affluenza' DWI Sentence Too Lenient?

By Brett Snider, Esq. on December 13, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A Texan teen avoided a 20-year prison sentence for killing four people in a drunken driving crash by citing his affliction with "affluenza."

Ethan Couch, 16, received 10 years of probation after psychologist Dr. Dick Miller testified at his trial that Couch suffered from "affluenza," or the crippling condition of being "too rich to care about consequences," reports the New York Daily News.

Was this boy really too rich to go to jail?

'Affluenza' and Probation

In early December, the affluent teen admitted responsibility in juvenile court for his four counts of intoxication manslaughter, but did not take the stand, reports Dallas-Fort Worth's KXAS-TV.

Prosecutors had requested that Couch be sentenced to 20 years in state prison, which is the maximum penalty for one charge of intoxication manslaughter. Judge Jean Boyd instead opted for 10 years of probation, allowing the boy to stay in juvenile detention before seeking therapy/rehab treatment. This creative sentence was bolstered by Dr. Miller's testimony during Couch's trial, stating that his fractured home life and the emotional capacity of a 12-year-old suggested treatment, not incarceration. Miller worried that Couch's reliance on money to solve problems would not be solved by putting him in the "sick system" of Texas jail, reports the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Probation is often an option for low-level first-time offenders with drunken driving convictions, but it is extremely rare for someone like Couch, who admitted causing the deaths of four people, to be sentenced to only probation.

California Rehab Center

Miller spoke with CNN's Anderson Cooper on Thursday, explaining that Couch has a much better chance of becoming a "fully functional citizen" in a California rehab center than he does in jail.

While this may be true, the victims' families were outraged at the posh sentence. Eric Boyles, who lost his wife and daughter to Couch's drunken driving told Cooper on Wednesday that a message needs to be sent "that money and privilege can't buy justice in this country."

The Daily News reports that Couch's legal team proposed sending him to a Southern California rehab center with "cooking classes" and "health spa-style accommodations" for the price of $450,000. Couch's legal team stressed that the punishment isn't a free ride; Judge Boyd could revoke Couch's probation and send him to jail at any time in the next 10 years if he "misbehaves."

For those without the dreaded affluenza, this seems like a lot of malarkey.

Related Resources:

Copied to clipboard