June 18, 2018
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Judge should be held accountable for future conduct of teen in ‘affluenza’ case

Renee Ordway
By Renee Ordway, Special to the BDN

I was the youngest child in my family.

I think I may suffer from “coddleuenza”: the affliction associated with being the baby of the family and getting away with more than your older siblings.

Of course, we used to just call it being babied or spoiled, but with the birth of affluenza as a seemingly legitimate condition and legal defense, I see no reason why “coddleuenza” could not provide the same buffer from responsibility.

Should I ever get into trouble, my defense attorney could surely argue that I was taken to Disney World when I was just 16 years old, while my older sisters did not go until they were older.

I had a 1976 Dodge Aspen at my disposal for much of my teenage years, while my sisters had to share a 1969 Firebird.

I was not punished as harshly as my older sibs for missing the 11 p.m. curfew, and when we went camping, I was allowed to head directly to the pool instead of staying behind to help set up camp.

There must be a psychologist out there somewhere who would agree that such an upbringing could greatly diminish my ability to know the difference between right and wrong.

I’m thinking that might slice a few years off my sentence.

A Texas judge’s reaffirmation this week of a teenage boy’s sentence to probation and rehab after his vehicle struck a group of bystanders, killing four of them, while he was driving drunk last June, has launched the term “affluenza” into the stratosphere. Like it or not, it has probably made being a spoiled, rich kid a viable defense in criminal law.

Ethan Couch’s attorney argued that his client suffered from the condition because his parents spoiled him and didn’t hold him accountable for his behavior.

The judge seemingly accepted the lawyer’s argument that young Couch should not have to suffer the consequences now.

Couch is soon to be sent off to a treatment and rehabilitation center, paid for by his parents. The judge set no minimum time regarding the length of the stay.

Sadly, the judge’s remarkable decision has all but ensured that being rich and spoiled will now become an oft called-upon mitigating factor for defense attorneys across the country that are in the position of defending the “beautiful people.”

Judges and juries use mitigating and aggravating circumstances to determine a defendant’s level of responsibility when deciding guilt or innocence and when handing down sentences.

Factors such as whether the defendant has a job, has otherwise been a good citizen, has strong family support, has no criminal history and is remorseful may all serve to the benefit of say the fellow who pilfered funds from the town hockey league.

Showing no remorse, having a previous criminal record or exhibiting documented bad behavior could mean otherwise.

There is always room for controversy when it comes to what constitutes a mitigating or aggravating factor.

Is drug abuse mitigating or aggravating?

Is it drug abuse or drug addiction?

While covering courts, I was always doubtful when it was argued that the judge should take into account that the young defendant before him had become a father since the crime was committed.

A mitigating factor, the defense attorneys would almost always suggest.

That a young man convicted of a serious crime should get points for getting a woman pregnant always troubled me, but many judges saw it differently, especially when said woman and infant were seated in the benches behind the defendant.

Last June was not Couch’s first run-in with the law. He had previously been cited for possessing and consuming alcohol as a minor and was ticketed when police discovered him in a pickup truck with a 14-year-old girl naked and passed out by his side.

The prosecutors in the case asked for a 20-year-sentence. Despite the horrific consequences of Couch’s behavior, it certainly could be argued he did not intend to kill anyone, he was after all just 16 years old and apparently was raised by parents who spoiled him.

Twenty years was too far to one side of the sentencing spectrum, but District Judge Jean Boyd’s decision that he deserved no incarceration warrants the outrage that has ensued in Texas and across the nation.

In the wake of such tragedies it is common for people to insist that the punishment fit the crime. When you’ve lost a loved one at the hands of another person, there really is no such thing. A court can’t provide the solace you seek.

But it is there to help protect the public and ensure accountability.

Judge Boyd’s decision in Couch’s case failed miserably on both counts. Upon leaving rehab, I assume he will be released back to the same parents who caused his “affluenza” condition in the first place.

If the responsibility for his past behavior lies solely at the feet of his parents, then the consequences of his future conduct may lay squarely with Judge Boyd.

You can reach Renee Ordway at reneeordway@gmail.com.



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