There have been many profoundly unjust decisions in the United States this year. One of the worst would have to be the setting free of George Zimmerman, who shot and killed the unarmed black teen Trayvon Martin, who committed absolutely no crime and was literally trying to run away from Zimmerman, who was wielding a gun. Yet, an even more outrageous case has surfaced recently, which I can only succinctly describe as: the worst legal decision of the entire year.
His name is Ethan Couch. He committed a crime. He’s sixteen years old, and he drank alcohol (despite being previously arrested for underage drinking). He also drove. While drunk. He committed a crime. He then did what almost everyone does when they drink and drive – he got into an accident. Four totally innocent bystanders died. The details, from Business Insider, are appalling:
All four were killed when Couch ran them over in his Ford-350, which also struck a parked car, which slid into another vehicle headed in the opposite direction. Couch’s pickup truck was carrying seven passengers, two of whom were severely injured.
Couch’s blood alcohol level was three times the legal limit.
In other words, he committed a crime. Actually, several crimes. And most reports of this story say “he killed four people,” but the case in its entirety is worse than that. For example, the two who were severely injured “cannot move or talk,” according to Time.
But Ethan Couch has something that most people don’t have – rich parents. Really rich parents. And when you have rich parents, you are a part of the elite tier of the US justice system. This is not something they write about in any guide to becoming an American citizen, but most Americans know it well. The country has a two-tier justice system.
So Couch, the killer, went to court.
But being in the top tier of the justice system, Couch has certain rights that others don’t. That is to say, money; because in the USA, money = rights. And if you have money, then you damn well have the right to give and accept it.
That’s exactly what I’m-not-proud-to-call psychologist Gary Miller did, when he accepted what I’m sure was a great sum of “rights” from the Couch family, in order to protect him from punishment.
“He never learned that sometimes you don’t get your way,” Miller said in court. “He had the cars and he had the money. He had freedoms that no young man would be able to handle.” Then he said what makes this story so outrageous. He said that Couch suffers from “affluenza.” His argument is that Couch genuinelyy didn’t know any better, because he is so rich, and so spoiled, that he has never been properly punished for his actions.
Let me boil down this argument to a simple sentence: “Couch has never been punished before… so let’s let him off easy.”
Unfortunately, when you have the legally protected term “psychologist” under your belt, no matter how bogus, irresponsible, or stupefyingly idiotic your testimony is, it is still admissible in court. And boy was it ever admitted – the judge ate it right up. More on that in a moment.
I suppose I don’t have to point out that affluenza does not appear in any version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or any diagnostic manual for that matter. In fact, I find it hard to believe that Miller himself even felt strongly about his “diagnosis.” But it’s not about that. Like most things in America, it’s just about money; and I’m sure Miller’s pockets got a lot heavier after testifying that the Couch parents were – in fact – very, very shitty parents.
So let’s be totally honest. The fact that Miller used this excuse in the first place is not the outrageous thing about this story. The outrageous thing is the decision that Judge Jean Boyd made because of it. Couch will receive absolutely no jail time – he will merely be on probation until he is 26 years old. He will also be sent to “rehab” for a year, away from his parents.
This is even more bogus than the celebrity’s “sex rehab” excuse for getting caught cheating (note: I am not implying that sex addiction does not exist and that rehab is bogus; merely that celebrities only go to rehab after being caught cheating) because of the facilities themselves.
The “Newport Academy” promises an environment of “compassion and caring,” says the Daily Mail. By Newport Beach, California, this luxurious “rehab facility” offers various services to its “patients.”
Newport specializes in equine assisted psychotherapy where patients get to ride horses and also offers mixed martial arts lessons, opportunities for massages and cooking lessons.
Nothing says “teaching you how to learn from your mistakes” better than massaging the affluenza out of you. Unless, of course, you’re in the bottom tear of the justice system, in which case you would go to a juvenile detention center along with the rest of the 99%.
I’m not sure I want this kind of spoiled child learning mixed martial arts… but considering his rich parents are paying the $450,000 for his year-long stay, that’s the way it’s going to be.
Considering millions of exchange students leave home for years without seeing their parents, I would hardly accept that this is a punishment. Obviously they will still be able to communicate; it’s just that Couch will apparently have to live there for a year. And even though it’s called “punishment,” it’s more like a camping trip away from home, in Texas.
In case you had doubts about the two-tiered justice system, the same judge sentenced a 14-year-old black boy to 10 years of juvenile detention after killing just one person with a single strong punch in March 2012. Since that boy was in the lower tier, he was punished like he should have been. Couch, however, killed four and severely injured more, but had his parents’ money to keep him out of detention. So he only received ten years of “don’t let me catch you doing this again!”
Time had another great article on this nonsense, which included the following:
[. . .] Ultimately, aside from Couch, the case has more losers than winners. The criminal justice system will suffer from the impression it is classist and unreliable. Psychology will take a hit for being linked to the affluenza term, despite it not being a product of psychological science. And the case will add to the unfair characterization of kids as spoiled, entitled brats, despite the fact that most youth are not. But the worst outcome, of course, is for the victims and their families who have been denied justice.
I still feel like Trayvon Martin’s case was one of the biggest miscarriages of justice I have ever seen, but the trial and outcome of this case was so astonishingly ludicrous that I have to award it with the distinction of the most outrageous legal decision of 2013.
Malcolm X once said “Nobody can give you equality or justice or anything. If you’re a man, you take it.”
But if you’re a rich man, you buy it.