December 12th, 2013
10:35 AM ET

Rich Drunk Driver Kills 4, Spared Jail

To families of the victims, Ethan Couch was a killer on the road, a drunken teenage driver who caused a crash that left four people dead.

To the defense, the youth is himself a victim - of "affuenza," according to one psychologist - the product of wealthy, privileged parents who never set limits for the boy.

To a judge, who sentenced Couch to 10 years' probation but no jail time, he's a defendant in need of treatment.

"Now, the families of couch's victims have filed civil lawsuits against the teen and his family," CNN's Alina Machado reports. "One of those victims is a teen who was riding with couch and who is now paralyzed because of the crash. "

The decision disappointed prosecutors and stunned victims' family members, who say they feel that Couch got off too easy. Prosecutors had asked for the maximum of 20 years behind bars.

"Let's face it ... There needs to be some justice here," Eric Boyles, who lost his wife and daughter, told CNN's Anderson Cooper 360 on Wednesday night.

"For 25 weeks, I've been going through a healing process. And so when the verdict came out, I mean, my immediate reaction is - I'm back to Week 1. We have accomplished nothing here. My healing process is out the window," he said.

Lawyers for Couch, 16, had argued that the teen's parents should share a part of the blame for the crash because they never set limits for the boy and gave him everything he wanted.

According to CNN affiliate WFAA, a psychologist called by the defense described Couch as a product of "affluenza."

He reportedly testified that the teen's family felt wealth bought privilege, and that Couch's life could be turned around with one to two years of treatment and no contact with his parents.

“This really flies in the face of our criminal justice system,” says Sunny Hostin, CNN Legal Analyst and former federal prosecutor. (SEE VIDEO BELOW)

“I think a lot of people feel the system is about rehabilitation…but it's also about punishment and sending a message to not only this defendant, but other people that this type of behavior won't be tolerated. You can't kill four people and paralyze another one and then get sent to a rehab facility…rather than being sent to prison where you learn real adult lessons.”

Couch was sentenced by a juvenile court judge on Tuesday. If he violates the terms of his probation, he could face up to 10 years of incarceration, according to a statement from the Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney's Office.

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soundoff (12 Responses)
  1. Jean Beebe

    THIS IS SICK! What the F#$% is the point to the justice system if it does not protect the innocent and reprimand the GUILTY! I'm disgusted to call this country my home more and more these days. This is an absolute abomination. Shame on the court, the boy, his family and his attorney.

    December 13, 2013 at 9:40 pm | Reply
  2. Sylvia Piche

    Absolutely ridiculous! No one is held accountable for their actions anymore. Oh sorry, no rich people are held accountable. If this was a poor ethnic kid, he'd be in jail for years. What is the court system about, NOT justice. Now this kid will think he can get away with anything, because he's rich. So what's next? Murder my girlfriend because she upset me? Maybe murder my rich parents because they mad me angry. Way to go judge. Did you get paid off for that so called "judgement". You should be kicked off the bench!

    December 13, 2013 at 6:28 pm | Reply
  3. Thomas

    It always bothers me when they talk about the legal limit for blood alcohol level when we are talking about minors. The legal blood alcohol level for adults is 0.08 so I 0.24 is 3x the legal limit. This, however, was a 16-year-old who cannot legally drink. The legal limit for minors is 0.01, as in, "If there is alcohol in your system, you are wrong." Therefore a 0.24 is 24x the legal limit. I don't have any sympathy whether it is an adult/child, but when we have a kid with an alcohol level this high, there are a lot of things that were missed that could have prevented this whole thing. Starting with where did he get the alcohol?

    December 13, 2013 at 4:11 pm | Reply
  4. Ccourtright

    If he never learned to have to take resposibility for his actions, then the judge should have thrown the book at him in order for him to finally learn it! That is so much BS and they should investigate whether the judge was being paid off.

    December 13, 2013 at 2:39 pm | Reply
  5. Catherine L.

    Here's another situation where people with money tweak the system to get away with things. The law isn't law anymore. Our system is broken by people who are allowed to loop hole their way out of things. There's no justice here. The system has to change.

    December 12, 2013 at 12:32 pm | Reply
  6. Chosen one

    Alcohol is the problem, not the teenager. The contrast goes to the Government for similar situations. Did I say Governement, there is no Government anymore........

    December 12, 2013 at 12:29 pm | Reply
  7. Zolicon

    That is the life of the Rich & Shameless for You.

    December 12, 2013 at 12:17 pm | Reply
  8. Lamar

    People have gotten more time for stealing candy bars or sodas out of a gas station, this judge needs to be taken off of the bench, the drunk driver can be sentenced to prison and still get help,

    December 12, 2013 at 12:01 pm | Reply
  9. Sean

    If the drunk driver was black he'd get 40 years. This is a perfect demonstration of the inequality of criminal convictions. He's rich and white so he gets away with murder.

    December 12, 2013 at 11:52 am | Reply
  10. Dave

    Dana, though a regular reader of CNN, I had to visit Fox News to learn this occured in Fort Worth, TX. Why omit such pertinent information from your article?

    December 12, 2013 at 11:37 am | Reply
  11. Hilda

    I would not be surprise if the Couch family is friends with the judge. It is highly possible. Has anyone looked into that?

    December 12, 2013 at 11:20 am | Reply

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