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Teen Responsible for Fatal Crash Receives No Jail Time

Judge Claims "Affluenza" Defense Did Not Affect Her Decision

Affluenza is a term coined to describe a condition caused by the pursuit of materialism. Many have called this the "Keeping Up with the Joneses" condition. 17-year-old Ethan Couch's very public trial brought affluenza to the public eye after driving drunk and killing four people. Rather than jail time, Couch received 10 years' probation, sparking outrage from the victims' families.

Throughout the teen's trial last year, his defense attorneys claimed that Couch's upbringing led to his decision to drive while drunk. Because his parents were wealthy and because Couch was used to getting what he wanted, his attorneys claimed, he developed an impaired sense of judgment.

At the time of his arrest, the teen's blood alcohol concentration was more than three times the legal limit in Texas. He was also traveling 30mph over the speed limit. This was not Couch's first encounter with the law. Earlier that same year, the teen pled "no contest" to both minor in possession of alcohol and consuming alcohol as a minor.

Couch's attorneys called Psychologist G. Dick Miller to testify. Miller provided evidence indicating that because his parents gave him so many freedoms growing up, Couch was essentially missing the natural link in his reasoning between behavior and consequences. While Miller did initially use the word "affluenza" to describe his condition, Miller later regretted it because he believed it downplayed the real medical problems plaguing Couch.

Although the judge chose probation in lieu of jail time for Couch's sentence, she said that her decision was not influenced by the affluenza defense. Instead, Judge Jean Boyd emphasized her belief that alcohol rehabilitation was a more appropriate and likely a more effective penalty than incarceration would have been.

Couch could potentially end up serving a jail sentence, but only if he violates his probation. The terms of which include:

  • Refraining from drugs and alcohol
  • Refraining from operating a motor vehicle
  • Attending rehabilitation for an undisclosed period of time

There is the possibility that Couch's sentence will be appealed.