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The Oklahoma Legal Group Blog

Will Consequences Ever Catch up with the Affluenza Teen?

Adam Banner - Saturday, March 26, 2016

For most people, it was an unthinkable case of "poor little rich kid." Ethan Couch was only 16 years old when he caused a drunk driving accident that killed four people and left another teen severely injured. Facing four counts of manslaughter, Couch could have been sentenced to years in prison. However, his defense team argued that the teen was essentially too spoiled to understand that actions have consequences. He suffered from "affluenza." He was too rich, too entitled to understand the rules of life.

Shockingly, a judge agreed and sentenced Couch to 10 years of probation for four counts of manslaughter. This is the same judge who sentenced a 14-year-old black teen to 10 years in prison for punching a man, who fell and struck his head on a sidewalk and died two days later of a head injury.

For many of us, that logic simply does not make sense. Even if he had never had consequences before, continuing a trend of little to no consequence for wrongdoing would in no way change the behavior. If one had always gotten away with everything, wouldn't one expect to continue getting away with everything?

And, of course, that is exactly what happened.

As part of the teen's probation, he is not allowed to drive, drink alcohol, or use drugs. In December 2015, a Twitter video surfaced that purported to show the "affluenza teen," now 18, violating probation by playing beer pong. After all, why would he think he would have to comply with probation if he didn't have to face any consequences before? If you can get away with an act that kills four people, what's a little beer pong?

Instead of facing the consequences for violating probation, Ethan and his mother Tonya proved what the defense had argued all along--this affluent family felt it was above the law. The mother and son duo changed their appearances, threw a farewell party, and took off for Mexico.

The two were apprehended in late December. Tonya Couch, 48, was charged with hindering apprehension, a felony punishable by 2 to 10 years in prison. Ethan Couch was not extradited to the United States for a little while longer, but when he arrived, he was placed in solitary confinement for his protection, and the Tarrant County prosecutor's office pushed to have his case transferred from juvenile court to adult court.

Last month, a judge agreed. When Ethan Couch turns 19 on April 11--just two weeks away--he will be transferred to the adult court system.

Many people are frustrated that Couch will only spend 120 to 180 days in jail when his case is transferred, and that probation will continue for the teen--now adult--who was unable to serve a full two years of probation without violating it and who attempted to avoid the consequences by fleeing the country. 

However, the adult court judge will be able to set the new terms of Couch's probation, which could include GPS ankle monitoring or a curfew. And if he violates probation again before it expires in 2024, the "affluenza teen" could face up to 10 years in prison for each manslaughter count.

Maybe fleeing to Mexico doesn't always mean you get away with it.






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