FORT WORTH (CN) – “Affluenza” as a legal defense has sparked national outrage after a teenager was sentenced to probation for a drunk-driving accident that killed four people and injured nine.
State District Judge Jean Boyd on Dec. 3 sentenced 16-year-old Ethan Couch to 10 years probation and therapy at a California clinic.
Couch could have been sentenced to 20 years in state prison for the fatal June 15 collision in south Fort Worth.
Police said Couch was going 70 mph in a 40 mph zone and his blood alcohol content was at 0.24: three times the legal limit of .08 for an adult.
It is illegal for minors to drive with any alcohol in his system.
During trial, defense psychologist Dr. G. Dick Miller testified that Couch is a product of “affluenza”: that his family felt wealth bought privilege, so the boy saw no link between behavior and consequences.
Miller testified that Couch’s parents gave him “freedoms no young person should have.”
After the sentencing made national news, Miller said he never intended the term “affluenza” to be a diagnosis, and that he regretted using it.
He told WFAA-TV he used the word affluenza “to describe what we used to call spoiled brats.”
“It’s not a diagnosis,” Miller told the TV station. “The diagnosis was something completely different.”
Miller said he has received 110 phone calls since the trial, including several threats.
“Someone got my unlisted number. He said, ‘I’ve killed four people. I wouldn’t mind killing five,'” Miller said.
Judge Boyd has been slammed by critics, some of whom are circulating petitions demanding her resignation.
“Essentially what [Boyd] has done is slapped this child on the wrist for what is obviously a very serious offense which he would be responsible for in any other situation,” Dr. Gary Buffone, a Florida psychologist and family wealth adviser told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
“The defense is laughable, the disposition is horrifying … not only haven’t the parents set any consequences, but it’s being reinforced by the judge’s actions.”
Buffone endorsed Miller’s post-trial version of the problem: “The simple term would be spoiled brat,” he said.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott also criticized the judge.
“The fact that someone who injured others and killed others and escaped with such a light penalty is not what you typically see in Texas. We want to visit with various different parties to see if there is an angle for the attorney general’s office to play a role,” said Abbott, who is seeking the Republican nomination for governor.
Couch’s attorney Scott Brown disagrees with the criticism.
Brown told the Star-Telegram his client could have been freed after two years had he received the maximum prison sentence. Instead, the judge “fashioned a sentence that could have him under the thumb of the justice system for the next 10 years,” Brown said.
Miller said his job is to design a therapy curriculum that Couch could not get in the Texas juvenile justice system.
“He’ll see his mother every few days if he goes to the penitentiary. He’ll see his relatives. People will feel sorry for him,” Miller told WFAA. “Right now, the consequences are he’s a monster. He’s going to have to peel that onion back. Every day, we’re going to put it in his face. And for the rest of his natural life, he’ll have to deal with that. Those are consequences.”
Outrage against Judge Boyd has spread as far as England, where The Daily Mail reported: “In the past she has handed out tougher sentences and last year an African-American teenager was jailed for 10 years for punching a man who died.”
The Dallas Morning News blasted Boyd in an editorial, which stated that she is not running for re-election.
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