December 11th, 2013
09:30 PM ET

Teen drunk driver uses "affluenza" defense after deadly crash

Outrage after a 16-year old drunk driver escapes jail time for killing four people last June. At the time of the crash Ethan Couch's blood alcohol level was three times the legal limit and he was speeding. The teen was facing four counts of manslaughter and up to 20 years behind bars. But a judge sentenced him to ten years of probation after his lawyers argued that he was a victim of his family's wealth. An expert witness they put on the stand termed it "affluenza," and the judge bought the argument. Randi Kaye has the story.

Eric Boyles' wife and daughter were killed by the car Ethan Couch was driving. This is the first time he is speaking publicly about what happened.

Anderson discussed this case with Dr. Drew Pinsky along with CNN Legal Analysts Mark Geragos and Sunny Hostin.

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Filed under: "Affluenza" • Dr. Drew Pinsky • Mark Geragos • Randi Kaye • Sunny Hostin
soundoff (30 Responses)
  1. mmueller

    Affluent white people have been getting away with this defense since the very first trial by a jury of so called peers happened . This is just the first time they've had the audacity to put a label on it. The only thing that shocks me is how many people are surprised that he got away with it.

    December 13, 2013 at 9:00 pm |
  2. steve

    the scales of justice are not equal, they are tilted in favour of the rich, at least in south australia our attorney general can contest the decision

    December 13, 2013 at 2:30 am |
  3. Dan Wray

    So the doctor said 80% of us suffer from "affluenza," his own daughter, by his uncoerced, unsolicited admission, has this contrived condition?! Are we to expect this kind of atrocity from the doctor's daughter?! How shamefully ridiculous.

    December 13, 2013 at 1:20 am |
  4. ggallin

    If only rehabilitation was given to all the convicted... Forgive and help those who need it most. Make it easier for young people to open their hearts to Jesus and not harden and blister away in this country's terrible prison system

    December 13, 2013 at 1:07 am |
  5. Jules

    The end of common sense has arrived.

    December 12, 2013 at 11:21 pm |
  6. Glenn

    Soooo can a person use "DISaffluenza" as a defense. Under the philosophy of affluenza and the effect money has on people, wouldn't it work in the reverse? A person without money can commit crimes and not go to jail.

    December 12, 2013 at 9:47 pm |
  7. Ruth

    Money and priviledge can buy justice in Newport News, Virginia. I am a witness to it. A young man (19y.o)was racing down a major road in Newport Newsin his 2013 vehicle (at least three miles) before he slammed into the rear of my car while I was standing still at a red stop light. Two witnesses told that he was racing prior to slamming into me at 4 in the afternoon. The officer on the scene took a statement and issued the gentleman a reckless driving ticket. This person got a lawyer who had the case postponed 4 X. Eventually it went to trial - no witnesses or mysellf or passengers were asked to be in court for the trial. My daughter went just to see the hearing - the presiding judge asked if she was the driver and made some reference that no one died in the accident - well we could have!! I've contacted local news stations and the Virginia state Bar about this and was told they do not give legal advice and that I should hire an attorney to get answers to my question - how can one race and rear end someone (my car was totalled) and be found not quilty of reckless driving. The young man who ran into the back of me lives in a very affluent neighborhood and I suppose he too suffers from "Affluenza." NO LESSON LEARNED - NO JUSTICE HERE!!!

    I would love to share the specifics of this situation with Anderson - perhaps he will examine it - something is wrong here.

    December 12, 2013 at 9:20 pm |
  8. Jerry Bell

    If they legalize affluenza as a defense, they should have a law to punish the parents for creating the situation for there son.

    December 12, 2013 at 8:51 pm |
  9. Anthony Pierre

    Anderson: I have to suggest that it's not Ethan who is afflicted with 'Affulenza", it's actually the Judge. I'm glad this case brought the term to light, I now have a perfect explanation for what affects/infects the "tea party" wing of the Republican party. Their actions make complete sense now!!

    December 12, 2013 at 8:47 pm |
  10. Ange Tekam

    Anderson, you were right spot on. The justice system is completely earn you pay. My daughter has been locked up in a hospital for 8 years now. If I had money, my daughter wouldn't have been in such place. she has.n't killed anyone, not even destroyed a property. She was having a midlife crisis of a sort and I did have money to pay for places where she could appriately reframe her life. she was caught driving my car without my authorization and was taken to NFSH. It's been 8 years. I have tried all I can and couldn't get her out of NFSH. She was diagnosed with depression and drugged continuouly for 8 years until her brain is dead. NFSH has never told the family when this tragedy would end for my daughter and my family. Anderson, How can you or anyone explain what manner of justice gives life sentence to someone for driving his family car without authorization and luxury rehab to another who killed 4 people?

    December 12, 2013 at 8:46 pm |
  11. Danny L. Head

    This is a perfect example of how money can BUY our legal system. My heart goes out for the families with no justice!!

    December 12, 2013 at 8:44 pm |
  12. cc star

    Bravo Anderson - keep the heat up. it's not revenge. it's personal accountability. This is despicable and shameful.

    December 12, 2013 at 8:42 pm |
  13. Michelle Jones

    The head of the rehab facility, Jamison Monroe, Jr., just said, "Keep in mind, if this child had not been under the influence of alcohol, this accident would never have happened." Um. Duh?

    I sure would like to hear some input from Mothers Against Drunk Driving, cause this dude just set them back 30 years.

    And, how can the rest of us get sentenced to that specific rehab (country club)?

    December 12, 2013 at 8:34 pm |
  14. Juan

    The kid as well as the parents need a lesson.
    How can our legal system be so color blind, only sees green.
    The family needs to pay.

    December 12, 2013 at 8:32 pm |
  15. Juan

    This is not correct, our court system is colored green!
    THe parent need a lesson as well as the kid.
    Stop doing bsuiness with this family/company.

    December 12, 2013 at 8:29 pm |
    • Don

      With this sentence if I decide to commit a robbery can I claim iwantitfluenza or gotto haveitfluenza or how about povertyfluenza

      December 13, 2013 at 11:18 am |
  16. Deborah

    Anderson, I am a retired North Texas Deputy Sheriff and this Ethan Couch ran from the scene of the accident immidetaly and was found 1/2 mile from the scene.
    I was a fugitive officer and transported fugitives from ages as low as 18 to as high as in their 60's. But this kid is a criminal and has been a criminal by Texas criminal law. He was totally responsible for his actions of drinking, getting behind the wheel to drive it with passengers and then kill 4 other people on the side of the FM aka Farm to Market road in Tarrant County. The Phd is a man who needs to go to therapy himself. If you drive a motor vehicle and kill you have used the motor vehicle as a weapon as sure as someone else uses a gun.

    December 12, 2013 at 8:29 pm |
  17. Bill Kirklin

    The young man's blaming his parents for his actions, and that defense having been accepted in court may work to the family's disadvantage as they defend the upcoming civil suits. In the end, some type of justice may be served.

    December 12, 2013 at 8:26 pm |
  18. M.C.Malkemus

    An overt travesty of justice. If you have money, you can afford the best attorney and get off almost any charge. If not, you go to jail. The US justice system is corrupted in that way.

    December 12, 2013 at 8:11 pm |
  19. Vern G

    This judge should be publically identified and voted out at the next election. It is unfortunate that this teen;s judgment cannot be overturned. He needed to be punished as much for his own character development as for victims justice.

    December 12, 2013 at 3:18 pm |
  20. Maria Agbayani

    The message is this: If you have money- you can get away with anything. It is so unjust.

    December 12, 2013 at 10:14 am |
  21. Cheryl Matala

    If the parents are rsponsible forthe boys' condition, why aren't they required to undergo rehab themselves? Supposedly, they caused it!

    December 12, 2013 at 9:52 am |
  22. Mark Bello

    Some people intend to kill, others make the wrong decisions and death occurs. If a life threatening situation were planned or premeditated I believe punishment should be considered. In all cases, accidents should not be punished, but they should not be ignored, though it is difficult to tell the difference some times. Let's not disregard that driving under the influence is dangerous and this teen is old enough to be conscious of the result of his actions. The prison system is a complete failure. Criminals should be diagnosed and treated because many have psychological trauma. Locking people up like caged animals only makes them act like animals. They only know the confines of the cage. How does one expect to release these people in to society completely unprepared? They are set for failure, only to return to the correctional facility because all they know is territory, race, and violence. Its called a correctional facility, but the correcting hasn't proven effective. I'm not saying I have the solution to this problem, I am merely addressing the problem with my concerns.

    December 12, 2013 at 6:14 am |
    • Michelle Jones

      "In all cases, accidents should not be punished""
      " Let's not disregard that driving under the influence is dangerous "

      Driving under the influence IS ILLEGAL. Causing accidents while driving under the influence is ILLEGAL. The drunk driver is legally responsible for any harm he causes, intentional or not. This is the law that Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD) fought for arduously for years. Drunk drivers can no longer dodge responsibility by whining, "It was an accident; I didnt mean to do it." Perhaps not, but you certainly did intend to drink, you did intend and chose to drive drunk. Those choices are illegal, and the consequences of those choices ARE YOUR FAULT, period. Putting a drunk behind the wheel is akin to putting bullets in a gun; Somebody's gonna get hurt.

      December 13, 2013 at 4:40 am |
  23. Scott

    I once changed a tip on a credit card receipt from $4 to $14 and spent 9 months in Texas State Prison for that mistake. This kid kills 4 people and gets probation because he has the unfortunate experience of growing up affluent. POOR kid

    December 12, 2013 at 1:45 am |
  24. Jeff Young

    Depending on the facts, in CA the parents could be liable for negligent entrustment of the vehicle to their minor son and for the damages suffered by the surviving family members of the four decedants. Does TX have this civil remedy? What a senseless tragedy. Even for a minor, jail time is appropriate. The judge's ruling just affirms to this young man that money can shield you from being responsible for your harmful acts. Not a good outcome here.

    December 12, 2013 at 1:41 am |
  25. tauromaja

    From what I can tell, affluenza got him out of a prison sentence.

    December 12, 2013 at 12:04 am |
  26. Guy

    It was manslaughter. While he is to blame, we can't go around pretending that he WANTED to kill those innocent people.

    December 11, 2013 at 11:12 pm |
    • Michelle Jones

      I do not see or hear anyone saying or pretending that this kid wanted to kill people. What he wanted was to get drunk, and to drive drunk. That is a crime, period. Causing accidents and harm to others while driving drunk is a crime, period. This is what MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) worked for so diligently for years: To hold drunk drivers accountable for their decision to drive drunk, and for the consequences of that choice. No more whining, It was an accident!

      December 13, 2013 at 4:27 am |
  27. Jessie Garrison

    If the parents are "Responsible" then throw THEM in jail, freaking ridiculous.

    December 11, 2013 at 10:55 pm |

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