Drunk driving Texas teen Ethan Couch gets probation
- 13 December 2013
- From the section US & Canada
A wealthy north Texas teenager who killed four pedestrians while driving intoxicated has been sentenced to probation, prompting anger from critics.
Ethan Couch, 16, had three times the legal drinking limit in his blood following the accident on 15 June.
His lawyers argued his family's wealth and lack of parental oversight justified rehabilitation.
Couch had faced up to 20 years in prison for the crime.
Authorities say Couch was seen stealing two cases of beer from a local store before he and seven passengers drove away in his pick-up truck.
The truck later struck and killed a stranded motorist and three good Samaritans who had stopped to help, including a mother and daughter.
Two of the passengers in Couch's pick-up truck were also seriously injured.
During his Fort Worth trial, Couch's defence team argued he suffered from "affluenza", a popularised term for children from wealthy families who have a sense of entitlement and make excuses for poor behaviour, according to media reports.
One psychologist testified that Couch was raised in a household where his parents were preoccupied and overly indulgent, arguing and later divorcing.
On Tuesday, juvenile court judge Jean Boyd later determined Couch would be better served by enrolling in a private $450,000-a year (£275,200) rehabilitation centre that his parents would pay for than to be sent into the Texas juvenile justice system.
The decision raised ire from critics, who said it was too lenient a sentence and not commensurate with sentences handed down to poorer individuals for comparable crimes.
Florida psychologist Dr Gary Buffone called the sentence a slap on the wrist for "a very serious offense.
"The defence is laughable," he told the Associated Press news agency. "Not only haven't the parents set any consequences, but it's being reinforced by the judge's actions."
The writer of an op-ed in the Christian Science Monitor on Thursday said the case illustrated a "double standard" where poor kids "often go to jail for 20 years".
Mike Hashimoto, an editorial writer for Dallas News, wrote on Wednesday that "despite all the death in his wake, Ethan Couch didn't learn a thing he didn't already know.
"It's far better to come from that wealthy place where actions seldom have those nasty old consequences," he wrote. "That's for other folks."