Imagine losing two of your loved ones, who had stopped to help a stranded driver, to a drunk driver. Then imagine hearing the judge sentence that drunk driver to in-patient rehabilitation, 10 years of probation, and no jail time, the equivalent to a slap on the wrist.
Eric Boyles didn’t have to imagine it. He lived it. On June 15, Boyles’s wife and daughter had stopped to help a stranded driver. That same night, 16-year-old Ethan Couch was driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.24 (three times the legal limit) and seven teen passengers.
Couch crashed his vehicle into the stranded vehicle, killing the stranded driver, Hollie and Shelby Boyles, and a youth pastor who had also stopped to help. Two of the teens riding in the bed of Couch’s truck were also severely injured after being tossed from the vehicle.
Last week, Couch, who had admitted to drinking and driving and has a history of legal troubles, was finally sentenced to long-term alcohol rehabilitation at an in-patient treatment facility (a cost of about $450,000 per year) and 10 years of probation, despite prosecutors’ plea for 20 years in jail. Boyles and the families of the other victims felt that Couch got off too easy.
While Couch could potentially be rehabilitated, the families’ and now public’s outrage over the seemingly lax sentence stems from the fact that the teen comes from a wealthy family. In fact, their was used in his defense.
A psychologist called by the defense claimed that Couch himself was a victim of “affluenza,” or a state of mind in which a child or teen doesn’t link bad behavior to consequences because he or she was raised by wealthy, privileged parents who don’t set limits and believe that wealth buys privilege. Affluenza is not recognized by the American Psychiatric Association.
Among those outraged by Couch’s lenient sentence is Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott. The Attorney General is currently looking into the case further to see if the sentence can be appealed or if Couch can be prosecuted on any additional charges. The Tarrant County District Attorney’s office is also investigating the case further, though hopes for an appeal aren’t high. At the least, the attorneys are hoping to close loopholes in the juvenile law.
Couch will remain in juvenile detention until the judge decides on a permanent placement for his treatment. If he violates the terms of his probation, Couch will face up to 10 years of imprisonment, according to the Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney’s Office.