Thursday, December 12, 2013

Justice Done... But For Who?

I just read an article about a court case in Fort Worth, Texas, that has me angry and torn at the same time.

Ethan Couch, a 16 year old from a very wealthy family, was the driver of a Ford F-350 that struck a stalled car and the people around it, killing all four of them. He pleaded guilty last week to four counts of intoxication manslaughter and two counts of intoxication assault causing serious bodily injury. Two teens who were riding the back of the pickup suffered critical injuries.  One is paralyzed and right now can only communicate by blinking his eyes.

Couch's sentence for his guilty pleas?  10 years probation.  He had been facing 20 years in prison. His defense attorney, in a move that stunned many in the court room, was that Ethan Couch was spoiled by his wealthy parents, was never taught right from wrong and was never taught that actions have consequences. His idea of apologizing and making amends, according to the attorney and a psychologist hired by the defense, is to give someone money - a behavior allegedly learned from his parents.

“The teen never learned to say that you’re sorry if you hurt someone. If you hurt someone, you sent him money,” the psychologist, Gary Miller, said.
“He never learned that sometimes you don’t get your way,” Miller added. “He had the cars and he had the money. He had freedoms that no young man would be able to handle.”
Eric Boyles, who lost his wife and daughter in the wreck, told the Star-Telegram that money “always seems to keep [Couch] out of trouble.”
“Ultimately today, I felt that money did prevail. If he had been any other youth, I feel like the circumstances would have been different,” he added.
Another parent of one of the victims said even though Couche avoided jail time, “He’s not free.”
“None of us knows what God’s plan is. He has not escaped judgment. That is in the hands of a higher power,” she said.
In addition to the 10 years probation, the judge also ordered the teenager to receive therapy at a long-term, in-patient facility, the report states. Couch remains in a Tarrant County juvenile detention facility while officials decide on a treatment program.
So was justice served?  And if so - who won? Certainly the families of the victims didn't win much but would sending a 16 year old kid to prison for 20 years really give them peace?

Did family money influence the judge's decision at sentencing? Only he knows that. But it wouldn't be the first time someone from a family with wealth and status got away with a crime with a slap on the wrist.

Reading the comments after the article proved to be interesting.  One person wrote: "So…an irresponsible teen can kill 4 people, and a 54 year old teacher can rape a 14 year old student with NO consequence, yet a SIX year old boy will have a “sexual harassment” allegation on his school record for kissing a classmate on her hand…???"

"Another comment was: The kid was only 16 and driving that vicious & deadly truck! We need more in-depth background checks on those who buy trucks…..maybe even outlaw them entirely."

The second comment is just plain scary.  Blame the truck.  Yeah.  OK.  And by the way - as of yesterday the six year old's school record has been cleared of the sexual harassment allegation.

Did Ethan Couch get away with murder?  That remains to be seen.  This incident will either change him permanently or not.  If it doesn't, Couch will mess up again and he'll undoubtedly end up in prison.  But at the same time - does it really benefit society to send a 16 year old kid, who didn't intentionally murder anyone (unlike juvenile criminals in the streets who do it intentionally) to send him to prison for 20 years?

Obviously he was charged as an adult.  Otherwise he'd have only faced sentencing as a juvenile - until he was 21. Would it truly benefit society to put him away until he's 36 years old?  What would he be when he got out?

I don't have the right answer - only questions.  As someone who lost a son in a tragic car accident I very much grieve for these families.  But I can tell them and you that putting that kid in prison for 20 years won't take away their pain.  No by a long shot.

Personally, I think I would have sentenced him to a juvenile facility until he was 21, ordered the same intensive therapy while there, and tried to make him understand that actions do have serious consequences. I can't imagine a rich, privileged kid spending a few years in jail without it making him understand just how good he had it and just how easy it is to lose it all. Maybe then he'd understand responsibility.  Then again - maybe not.

That's just my opinion. I could be wrong.

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