Buying Injustice

16-year-old Ethan Couch stole beer, got drunk and plowed his father’s truck into a group of people killing four. His consequence? Probation and a stint in $450,000 rehabilitation center courtesy of his wealthy parents. According to an expert witness...


So, essentially, a child living in a wealth family does not see the connection between their actions and a negative consequence. This inability to know right from wrong, under our current justice system, is a valid defense for culpability as was shown in the Couch case.

Cost of Rehab

The second part of Couch’s sentence requires he attend rehabilitation. His defense argued to the court that he would not get the therapy he needed if he went into the justice system. It comes as no surprise to those of us in the justice profession that rehabilitation services in state-run facilities are often under-funded and under-staffed. This has been a concern for many years. It becomes even more concerning when a wealthy family points out the system’s failures and has the ability to offer a different solution for their child- a $450,000 a year solution. “I don’t believe going to the penitentiary was the best thing for him or the State of Texas,” stated Dr. Miller. I can’t disagree that rehabilitation outside the justice system can be much more effective. What is appalling is that our system’s rehabilitation has apparently been good enough for defendants without money. Also, too often we hear stories of how these country club rehabilitation facilities do little to change the behaviors of their high-end clientele. According to Miller, Couch already has a flat affect and will need years of therapy to overcome his affluenza. Can the facility in California truly meet that need? Time will tell. 

Urbanemia or Inner-City Affluenza

If Couch’s culpability can be reduced due to his upbringing and his social environment, why can’t the same be said for the other high-risk group of juveniles-inner-city minorities? We could call this affliction-urbanemia. Children raised in poverty, often by single mothers who work more than one job can argue many of the same effects as those suffering from affluenza. Lack of boundaries, always trying to get ahead and an uncertain parent who is too overwhelmed or exhausted to punish is very similar to the experience of wealthy children. I doubt that a similar case involving a young, poor, black child would have the same outcome. Not only would the family be unable to hire a high-price lawyer who could call a witness like Miller, but they would be unable to offer a family-funded rehabilitation facility as an alternative for juvenile hall. The child would most likely be heading to prison instead of a juvenile anyway.

Although Judge Boyd stated that Couch had “diminished culpability and great prospects for reform,” the only thing at the heart of this case is money. Without money, the outcome would have been different and Couch would be facing actual consequences for killing four innocent people. Currently, the family faces civil lawsuits from the victim’s families, as well as, the prosecution’s pushing of the judge to sentence Couch on the two remaining counts of intoxication assault charges that he pled guilty to. These charges could send Couch to juvenile for three years. Wouldn’t that be the final eye-rolling travesty of this case? If you have money, you can kill four people and get probation but if you assault someone you get 3 years. Justice should not be bought and if parents are not raising their children to be responsible, moral and la-abiding adults regardless of their social and economic standing, the parents need to be held accountable. At the same time, children need to learn there are consequences for behavior, both good and bad and those consequences should not have a dollar value.

 

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