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December 12th, 2013
10:44 PM ET

Psychologist defends outcome in affluenza case

Psychologist Dick Miller took the stand in the trial of 16-year-old drunk driver Ethan Couch, who killed four people in a crash on Father's Day weekend. Miller helped convince the judge that Couch was a victim of his family's wealth. While Couch was facing 20 years behind bars he was sentenced to ten years probation. On the stand, Miller used the term affluenza, but he acknowledged to Anderson "we used to call these people spoiled brats." Watch the full unedited interview with Dick Miller in three parts.
Part 2
Part 3
Anderson discusses this case with CNN Legal Analysts Mark Geragos and Jeffrey Toobin.
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Filed under: "Affluenza" • Exclusive • Mark Geragos • Sunny Hostin
soundoff (43 Responses)
  1. Michael Blumfield

    I have trouble understanding how the judge could take the recommendations from this psychologist seriously. The guy strikes me as a lightweight at best. I didn't hear a single statement from him that sounded like he's capable of serious thought. How he thinks the notion of "affluenza" and "spoiled brat" are the same thing, as he says in the beginning, is beyond me.

    December 30, 2013 at 8:08 pm |
  2. Ann Stokes

    All people should be treated equally under the law. If these parents were irresponsible in teaching their child right from wrong because they felt they were above the law, they failed in their parenting . It is no different than the parents whose son grows up to be a gang member and commits murder. The parents failed, and unfortunately it is the child that pays the price. Money is no measure of a person. It is how he or she treats others! All people are responsible for what they do and say at all times. A person who commits a crime does not deserve any special priviledges!!! Actions earn consequences.

    December 19, 2013 at 2:32 am |
  3. Charles Brixey

    Ethan Couch may have received a harsher sentence than he should have, even for killing 4 people. A fairly common failure causing horrific automobile accidents is a failure of the ABS Brake which causes Sudden Acceleration. The driver has no control of stopping an accelerating car. Whether the driver is an experienced race car driver or a person 4 times the legal alcohol limit, neither can stop the run away car. The "justice system" is so focused on punishing the driver that "innocent drivers" are regularly sentenced to pacify the public for the crime of unknowingly driving a defective car. NHTSA has failed to recognize this problem for decades. If we continue to convict innocent drivers for the failure in the ABS Brakes, the problem will never be fixed. Carnage on the roads goes on.
    If accident investigators were trained to recognize the Sudden Acceleration problem and this issue factually eliminated in the accident investigation, fairer driver judgement can be made.
    Current policy of "Drink, Drive, Go to Jail" is convicting many innocent drivers.

    December 18, 2013 at 8:57 pm |
    • Michelle Jones

      That makes no sense whatsoever. If you drive drunk, you are breaking the law, period. Mechanical failure is an altogether entirely separate issue. If you drive sober and your auto fails mechanically, you will not be charged with drunk driving for no good reason. Breathalizer, anyone? Good grief.

      December 19, 2013 at 8:34 pm |
    • Craig

      Do you have any other information on this subject? This is the first I have heard of this issue with ABS.

      January 7, 2014 at 1:45 pm |
    • GG

      Did this come up during the trial? To me it sounds like a hell of a lot better defense than affluenza, even though it's still ridiculous. The kid drove drunk and killed people, enough said.

      January 15, 2014 at 4:13 pm |
  4. Keith

    If affluenza can be used as a defense, why don't lawyers defending some 15 year old gang members charged with murder say, " Your Honor, my client suffers from Pooritis, he was raised by a single parent who had little money and was given no guidance or structure in his life so he shouldn't be held responsible for his actions."

    December 18, 2013 at 8:20 pm |
    • Marcell

      Actually they do, but barely works!

      December 23, 2013 at 9:04 pm |
  5. Karola Durette-Luckham

    I am a School Psychologist by training but have been working as Psychotherapist for 15+ years. I cannot begin to conceive how any decent Mental Health Professional can lend him/herself to this nonsense. This teenager knows right from wrong – he did not care a bit about others and caused the death of 4 people. It's a no-brainer for me: Put him in jail and see what entitlements he will find there.

    December 18, 2013 at 7:29 pm |
  6. David

    Lets be frank.. One rule for them , one rule for us... this is the system . this will not change unless we make it change.

    December 18, 2013 at 11:53 am |
  7. Ray

    Clearly to state that because the child suffers from a unique set of circumstances from having a life of financial privilege has set him apart from the rest of society does nothing but affirm the existence of a oligarchic class of society that is separated from the rules and boundaries of other 98% of the population. The statement that his upbringing justifies this lax punishment also assumes that the effects of his behavior (as Anderson logically contradicts) somehow disproportionately affects society than someone else who has less money – so he has money therefore his attitude and resulting behavior somehow causes society less harm? Completely illogically and only based on one thing – money and power. The truth of the manner is – money equals power and influence. The kid's parents are well-connected, rich, and powerful and this psychologist certainly will financially benefit from the a different set of justice that seems to apply to those who have money and power. The judge and everyone in that portion of society are connected financially to some degree.

    December 17, 2013 at 5:38 pm |
    • Carl

      They do pay the majority of the taxes in this country.

      January 1, 2014 at 8:14 am |
      • GG

        And they give lots of $ to the people who make our laws and hand out sentences.

        January 15, 2014 at 4:16 pm |
  8. Mary Conseca

    Stated simply, shielding this kid from the consequences of his actions NOW can NOT be in the best interests of a juvenile defendant whose lawyers, parents and hired psychologists all openly admit, suffers from a MENTAL DEFECT that was caused by the parental environment in which "he never learned about consequences." Obviously, such a 'shielding from the consequences' judicial decision would serve only to further aggravate the mental defect he suffers from.

    December 16, 2013 at 12:57 pm |
    • Jorge DeNeira

      It was just a case of politics of an affluent defendant over people without the means to play such, that a feeble judge allowed to play out. Wrong on so many levels if not all.

      December 19, 2013 at 1:13 am |
  9. Mary Conseca

    The circularity of the judge's logic is sufficient to demonstrate, beyond all doubt, that the "affluenza" defense is illegitimate, illogical, flim-flam mumbo-jumbo.

    If this kid suffers from a mental defect 'condition' in which his "rich parents never set limits for him and he never learned about consequences" – and if this 'condition' is deemed to be significantly responsible for this kid's action in killing 4 people (as the judge apparently determined) – then the solution and sentence can NOT possibly be to further aggravate this 'condition' by continuing to SHIELD this spoiled brat from the CONSEQUENCES of his action – given that such prior "shielding" of this kid from the consequences of his actions is precisely what cause the mental defect that is fully admitted & acknowledged by this defense.

    Stated simply, shielding this kid from the consequences of his actions NOW can NOT be in the best interests of a juvenile defendant whose lawyers, parents and hired psychologists all openly admit, suffers from a MENTAL DEFECT that was caused by the parental environment in which "he never learned about consequences." Obviously, such a 'shielding from the consequences' judicial decision would serve only to further aggravate the mental defect he suffers from.

    December 16, 2013 at 12:56 pm |
  10. Frank

    While I do not completely agree with either side of this particular news story. The fact we can talk about this sort of stuff gives me hope that things will change. Decades ago the rich were more protected and harder to take to justice if they committed a crime. There is no excuse for not punishing someone to the fullest extent of the law or for providing different punishments for the same crime based on the gender, race, wealth, or creed of the offender.

    There needs to be one code of justice for everyone and currently there clearly is not.

    December 16, 2013 at 11:26 am |
  11. Jane Peters

    Ridiculous. The judge needs to resign.

    December 15, 2013 at 11:59 am |
  12. Antonia Curry

    Was this pychologist paid off? It is very offending to me to hear a wealthy kid get off free and not pay by getting some jail time while the other kid 14 gets 10 years. Where is the justice? Plain disgusting !!

    December 15, 2013 at 12:38 am |
  13. Debba Sekou

    'Affluenza' was reportedly caused by parents failing to set limits or expectations for their son. Why does the court system jump in and continue that kind of neglect. Isn't it time that SOMEONE steps in to impose consequences for children like this? Everyone can agree that it's sad parenting and kids are suffering for it, but one can't begin imposing consequences any younger! If they parents won't do it, then it falls to the community to make use of a teachable moment. Better late than never!

    December 14, 2013 at 10:00 pm |
  14. Lowell

    Psychology is not a real science, and this proves it, once again. It's like the art major pretending whatever they draw, no matter how deriviative, is "art". His "science" based on personal opinion, and probably a nice off-shore account pay-off from daddy.

    December 14, 2013 at 8:22 pm |
  15. Christina

    I was very frustrated when I first heard about this case. The guy killed four people. Why are they letting him off easy. However, jail time is not the solution for everything. Five percent of the world's population is right here in the US, but one quarter of the world's prisoners are right here. That has to be a sign that something is wrong. The focus should be on improving rehabilitation programs to ensure that they do operate properly and that individuals do leave these centers changed. How is throwing everybody behind bars going to help change people for the better. So yes, he needs jail time, but rehabilitation would be more productive, and actually fix the problems.

    December 14, 2013 at 5:42 pm |
    • Reggie from LA

      I ain't mad about your comments, but who will pay to rehab the friends and family. Do we just pat folks on the head and say "There, there now. It's gonna be fine. We are going to rehabilitate the young fella.", because that's what it comes down to. He gets to erase it from his half-drunken memory and a whole community remains behind, looking up to heaven and the justice system and ask why. No answer will come accept to say there is no justice in this. I know you don't want to feed him to the lions, but what do we do? I tell you what, "let him suffer". Sad, but appropriate.

      December 23, 2013 at 2:07 pm |
      • GG

        I also agree that there are too many people locked up in the U.S., however, this one should be. Rehab is a better choice for someone who is killing themself with booze or drugs, but HE KILLED FOUR (4) PEOPLE!

        January 15, 2014 at 4:27 pm |
  16. Mogaka Simba

    So this teen gets away with murder because "he is a product of his environment". Pretty much that is how I understand it. The only problem is the kind of "environment" he comes from affords him a get out of jail card. What about the poor and the kind of environment they come from. I can,t imagine a lawyer arguing for the not so affluent that due to there upbringing they could not understand how they killed four people. Shame on this judge for what looks like reception of a bribe to act stupid. But then again power is knowing when to be stupid to get your way. Good luck to this boy. Nobody did you any favors. They just postponed what is surely your own destruction

    December 14, 2013 at 11:27 am |
  17. Peggy Ellison

    I am a law student in an honors criminal justice program. In one of our classes, we regularly talk about equity & the law. I am shaking my head over the use of "affluenza" as an excuse. As a former social worker, youth prison advisory board member and teacher in a Title I school, I am a great proponent for rehabilitation for children and young people who have a chance to change; however, I am not quite sure Ethan's sentence is equitable. The psychologist said the "boy was afflicted with "affluenza" — meaning the boy's wealth caused him to dissociate his bad actions from consequences." I could substitute one word, "poorenza" or "poorfluenza" – meaning a child's poverty caused him to dissociate his bad actions from the consequences, and how many kids could be sent to treatment? Ethan Couch had a history of crime associated with drinking that was no different from a lot of poor black teenagers who get no treatment and who are sitting in youth detention centers or even adult prisons. In my opinion, equity would require the kid to undergo treatment, but at a less posh treatment facility. The money the parents save could be used to help the family of one of Ethan's victims who is bedridden and unable to speak – or given to a struggling treatment program that is focused on less affluent clients. In addition, this kid should have to do community service, preferably in some type of endeavor that would teach him about real life. I further think he should have some of his freedom curtailed until he can show he is more responsible. I sincerely hope the treatment program where Ethan is going will help him, but will it help him overcome the "affluenza" of which he is said to suffer?

    December 14, 2013 at 8:31 am |
  18. peter J

    THe main reason Ethan Couch and other DUI offenders need to do jail time is to deter others from doing the same. Most people drink and drive because the chance of getting pulled over is very small and if you do, the "only" consequence is to spend 3-4 hours in Jail and pay a fine. What's the message we send to other young people with this case? It is "If you drink and drive and kill someone, you'll go to rehab, not prison. How many additional DUI deaths will this lax sentence cause?

    December 14, 2013 at 1:42 am |
  19. Mel

    If this guy wants to help people the way he helps this kid, he should convince these centers to offer their services for FREE to LOW COST. Not $450k a year!

    $$$ is a motivator on multiple levels here.

    December 13, 2013 at 10:43 pm |
  20. Miriam

    Hi Anderson,

    As a Producer/Director, can you please explain SOX violation? Have you every heard about this sarbane rules for violating company privacy? I would like to know how far we would like to take this term – it sometimes disrupts our work and we are not able to fully perform. From management stand point, can you please explain this term?

    Thanks – M.

    December 13, 2013 at 5:05 pm |
  21. Jim Willows

    I came from a pretty well off family. I got into a good college and my parents paid for it. But I screwed around and didnt go to class because I didnt realize that there would be consequences for doing so that would affect the rest of my life. As a result I had to leave school without graduating. But I didnt get some cushy slap on the wrist. I dealt with the real consequences of my actions, and that has made me a better man today. What kind of message is this sending? We now have proof that the super rich can get away with murder.

    December 13, 2013 at 2:30 pm |
  22. Jim Willows

    I came from an upper middle class family and area. Out of HS I got into a great college and my parents paid the bills. I screwed around and didnt go to class because I didnt really realize that doing so would affect the rest of my life. But I dealt with those consequences. I didn't get some cushy version of reality handed to me. And I don't blame anyone else but myself for this, and this has made me a better man. It's so sad that we now have proof that the rich can get away with murder.

    December 13, 2013 at 2:26 pm |
  23. carole schmidt

    No, I don't know him–my first exposure to Dr. Miller was in your interview with him.

    6 months ago, I would have felt the way you obviously do, Anderson–shocked at 10 years probation for a 16 year old who killed four people. But then my just-turned-18 year old nephew robbed a deli and I became keenly aware of how a teen thinks (or doesn't think!!), their complete obliviousness to impact, and today–I think Dr. Miller and the judge are right. This is the right punishment. This is not about affluence. This is about immaturity. I have learned, as my nephew goes into month four of incarceration at Broomfield Detention Center in COlorado, than sending ANY teen into the prison system only creates more criminals. When kids are this young, they DO deserve to be nurtured into changing behaviors–because at 16-20 years old, they still CAN be changed. A 40-year old who kills 4 people driving drunk is much more aware of his actions and thus, the consequence should be greater. But why add to the tragedy by sending a KID who made a stupid, STUPID decision to the place that we know is so damaging, especially to younger boys.

    I have learned from my own nephew's crime that it is smarter for all involved–the kid, the community– to give these kids the tools and an environment that helps them move forward. I get this now. I realize now that just shoving good kids who make bad choices into the punishing workd of prison doesn't really help anyone.

    The paradigm needs to shift and we need to move away from the eye-for-an-eye mentality. We can do better, and as hard as it may feel to swallow, Dr. Miller is right. He's been in the trenches and now I can also see things from his perspective. Shoving these kids into prison to make ourselves feel better ruins more lives.

    My nephew's sentencing is January 30. I hope that we have a judge who realizes, like the judge in the drunk driving case, that throwing Billy away doesn't do anyone any good. Yes, he did the crime. STUPID stupid decision. But sending him off to prison will not fix him–only make him worse.

    And by the way, we're not rich. His mom, my sister, is a single mom elementary school teacher making less than $40K per year. It's just that having the perspective about what really happens to these kids when we don't try to rehabilitate them first, is that they worsen in prison.

    Thanks for listening–and your terrific show.

    December 13, 2013 at 2:13 pm |
    • Geraldiine Alvey

      There is a huge difference between stealing from a deli and stealing the lives of four individuals. If you cannot understand the difference, you have my sympathy. The affluent teen does not, his sentance proves we still have the best justice system money can but.

      December 19, 2013 at 12:34 pm |
    • Doris Dehne

      Young people who drive drunk or rob delis because they are too immature to know better ("to make the right decision") are too immature to have a driver's license.

      December 22, 2013 at 3:46 am |
    • chrisb

      I can't agree with you. This tells the american society that kids can commit these type of atrocities and get away with it the first time. For example, can tell my 16 yr old kid to go into a bank armed kill a couple guards and take a million dollars and if he happens to get caught oh well he made a stupid mistake and get 10 yrs probation. Is that your logic? It doesn't make sense to me for someone just to have done a stupid stupid thing. Stupid is trying a drug or going too fast in a car, not killing 4 people. This kid needs to go away for a long time and I doubt you will change my mind on that.

      January 14, 2014 at 8:30 pm |
  24. inshapela

    I hope the surviving family sues this affluent family until they are living at the poverty level and below!

    December 13, 2013 at 10:54 am |
  25. Kay

    I hope the loved ones of the deceased do not watch this horrible interview! How painful it must would be to them that the treating physician cannot even say that this boy killed these people. Acceptance and ownership of mistakes are the first steps to repentance and retribution. If the persons responsible for his rehabilitation cannot own up to what he did, there is truly no hope of him ever being a productive citizen.

    December 13, 2013 at 9:44 am |
  26. Alinsj

    So, then, did the psychiatrist say the parents of this affluent brat should be held liable? Much like the bartender that allows a drunk patron to drive while inebriated... Someone needs to be held responsible!

    December 13, 2013 at 8:54 am |
  27. lauraleeauthor

    I have some small agreement with Dick Miller's argument that rather than bring the rich down to the level of the poor when it comes to criminal justice, we should give the same opportunities for rehabilitation to the poor as we do the rich. If we were willing to do that, it would be a much better system. Most revealing though was when Miller said "if you have a lot of money you get people with more skills." In other words, Miller does seem to feel that someone like this young man has more value to society and therefore should be spared anything that might interfere with his destiny as one of the "best and brightest." I have no idea how someone who is not willing to accept the concept of felony murder and or even to use the active voice to describe his clients actions "Some deaths were caused..." can possibly be the right person to cure this young man of the illusion that his actions have no consequences. Of course he did not intend to kill anyone. I'm sure the prisons are full of people who did not intend to kill anyone.

    December 13, 2013 at 7:37 am |
  28. nystromfoundation

    I work with teens from the US and have been shocked and appalled to see the lack of discipline, compassion and consciousness of consequences of their actions of many of the teens. This boy seems similar to the ones who raped the girl who was drunk in Ohio or the Fraternity group who invents "rituals" to be in their group or the strante case of the boy who wound up dead in a gym mat. This case is symptomatic of something much more widespread. Anderson, ask questions of the parents. Ask where they were and what have they done. Are the not in some way responsible for this as well???? Parents of today have to have the courage to stand up to their children and the context of our culture in which they are being raised.

    December 13, 2013 at 4:35 am |
  29. wendy solomon

    If the child suffers from "affluenza" (my computer doesn't even recognize this as a word!) and the defense is saying the parents raised him this way...then the parents should be held accountable for their under-aged child. Now that this ridiculous defense is case law (I think this is the term) and they have established that the parents / authority figures made him this way. The parents should be tried for this murder. I have never heard anything so ridiculous in my life. What's next???

    December 13, 2013 at 1:42 am |
  30. Karen Collins

    In February of 1949 two teens who were also drunk and racing their cars on a main street in Spokane, Washington one if their cars struck my sisters and her husbands car throwing her out of the car, the second teen drunk driver picked up her body and drug it for a block killing her. One of the boys father was a rich lawyer, the others a doctor...the boys got 30 days in jail. At the same time an out of work man with 9 kids and a wife stole a loaf of bread and was caught and sentenced to 17 years in prizen...he was not well to do. It is sad to me that in 64 years nothing has changed...the rich get away with murder still! Very sad.

    December 12, 2013 at 11:14 pm |

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