• Is “affluenza” junk science or a legitimate defense?

    Date: 12.23.13 | by Judge Tom.

    Have you heard about Ethan Couch, a 16-year-old Texas teen whose case is being discussed across the country?

    In June, 2013, Ethan and a few friends shoplifted two cases of beer from a local store. After drinking a fair amount, the boys went for a ride. Ethan was driving with seven friends in a truck including some in the back. He was going 70 in a 40 mph zone and registered a blood alcohol level of .24 which was over three times the legal limit. He hit and killed four pedestrians, ages 21 to 52, and injured some of his passengers.

    Couch was prosecuted in the juvenile system and pleaded guilty to intoxication manslaughter. The state asked for a sentence of twenty years in prison. After three days of testimony from witnesses, victims’ loved ones, and treatment experts in December, 2013, Couch was sentenced to ten years of probation and completion of a rehabilitation program. The defense successfully argued that Couch suffered from “affluenza” which is defined as a condition where a person feels entitled due to his or her parent’s wealth. Such an individual makes excuses for poor behavior, is irresponsible and often engages in drugs and alcohol. It is sometimes referred to as the “rich kid syndrome.” They believe their parents will shield them and buy their way out of any trouble they get in.

    Ethan Couch

    Ethan Couch

    Affluenza, a combination of “affluent” and “influenza” is not an accepted diagnosis by the American Psychological Association or any other credible institution. Some refer to it as junk science that surfaced in the 1990s as an explanation of certain behaviors exhibited by kids of wealthy families. It has rarely been offered in a court of law as a defense to a crime or justification for a lighter sentence.

    How do you view this case? Of course, we don’t know all the facts or have access to the reports and testimony presented the sentencing judge. On the face of it, however, does this seem like a fair or just punishment for taking the lives of four people? What has Couch learned from this? Does it possibly reinforce his belief that his parents will come to his rescue no matter what he does?



    Judge Tom

    This post was written by Judge Tom. Judge Tom is the founder and moderator of AsktheJudge.info. He is a retired juvenile judge and spent 23 years on the bench. He has written several books for lawyers and judges as well as teens and parents including the recently published 'Teen Cyberbullying Investigated' (Free Spirit Publishing). When he's not answering teens' questions, Judge Tom can be found hiking, traveling and reading.

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    • Is “affluenza” junk science or a legitimate defense? | Law Offices of David R. Bach, P.C.
      Mon, 23 Dec 2013 at 06:52

      […] Is “affluenza” junk science or a legitimate defense? […]