“Affluenza” teen sentenced 720 days for manslaughter

Texas teenager Ethan Couch, who pleaded “affluenza” to the manslaughter of four people in a drunk driving incident in 2013, has been sentenced to nearly two years in jail as of Apr. 13, 2016.

           Couch avoided a harsher punishment as he was sentenced in juvenile court, where the main focus is his rehabilitation; however after he violated his probation, prosecutors moved his case to adult court. Couch turned 19 on Apr. 11, two days later, district court judge Wayne F. Salvant ruled that Couch would spend 720 days in Tarrant County Jail — 180 days for each account of intoxication manslaughter.

           Authorities report Couch, then 16, was drunk when he plowed the pickup truck he was driving into four pedestrians on a road in Burleson, Texas, in June 2013. The four pedestrians were killed, and the two people riding in the bed of the pickup were severely injured.  Sergio E. Miolina, one of the injured, was no longer able to move or talk due to a brain injury.

Couch’s case began in juvenile court, where there had was given 10 years of probation and rehab despite the prosecution pushing for 20 years behind bars. Part of his probation ordered him to stay away from drugs and alcohol; however, in December 2015, a six-second video surfaced of him violating his probation attending a party featuring a game of beer pong. In response to this, after a meeting with Couch’s juvenile probation officer was missed, a warrant for his arrest was issued on Dec. 15, which was evaded when he and his mother crossed the border into Mexico — another violation of Couch’s probation. Ethan Couch was granted a three-day stay of deportation, but his mother, Tonya Couch, was charged with hindering apprehension, or the arrest of her son. Her bail was set at $1 million.

This action, however, was not unprecedented.

Before their arrest in Mexico, Tarrant County sheriff Dee Anderson, who had issued the warrant for Tonya Couch’s arrest, had suspected they had fled the country.

“[Tonya’s] entire focus was on protecting Ethan,” Anderson said. According to him, Tonya had no desire in having her son punished for his actions.

This leads into Ethan Couch’s defense, pleading the case on account of “affluenza”, testified by a psychologist named G. Dick Miller, hired by the defense team. “Affluenza” is not a recognized medical condition, but derives its name from a combination of the words affluent and influenza, and was commonly used to talk about children and teens who may act entitled or irresponsible and make excuses for acting out or displaying bad behavior. In Couch’s case, it was used to explain his inability to understand the consequences of his actions, having been raised privileged by wealthy parents.

When asked if she disciplined her son, Tonya Couch said she would “take little things away from him or we would discuss his problems”. Additionally, she said she could not remember the last time she had punished her son.

The introduction of “affluenza” into the Couch case has induced mixed feelings about the case. Frank Farley, a professor of educational psychology at Temple University and former president of the American Psychological Association says that while affluenza is “pop psychology at its worst example”, the concept deserves more study, including how social class and parental actions can influence a teen.

“A kid raised in this cocoon of social class may not even have the same concepts of social responsibility that every day folks have,” Farley says, but he adds this does not absolve people of their actions.