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Tarrant County Judge Denies Jail Time to Teen Who Killed Four While Driving Drunk

Last month, this blog discussed the case of Ethan Couch, a 16-year old who drove while intoxicated and killed four people in Tarrant County. Couch’s defense attorneys argued that Couch suffered from “affluenza,” or the inability to know right from wrong due to growing up in a wealthy home where he was given everything he wanted. The Tarrant County judge, Jean Boyd, sentenced Couch to probation rather than jail time, which drew outrage from the victims’ families and the general public. District Attorney Joe Shannon had hoped to persuade the judge to reconsider and give jail time for two intoxicated assault charges.

Instead, Judge Boyd confirmed recently that no jail time would be included in Couch’s sentence. Couch will instead be on probation for 10 years, part of which will be spent in a locked rehabilitation facility that could cost Couch’s parents up to $450,000 a year. During probation, Couch cannot drink alcohol, use drugs, or drive. If he violates the terms of probation, he could be sentenced to 10 years in prison. The hearing was closed to journalists and the general public, so there is no knowing whether Judge Boyd elaborated on her reasons for choosing this sentence.

The tragic accident took place in June 2013, after Couch and his friends had allegedly robbed a Wal-Mart store. The teenagers then piled into Couch’s Ford F-350 pickup truck, with some riding in the truck bed. Couch proceeded to drive at 89 miles an hour down the Burelson-Retta road in southern Tarrant County, with a blood alcohol level of more than three times the legal limit of .08. Couch then struck four people on the side of the road — a mother and daughter who had come to pick up a stranded friend, and a pastor who offered to help. All were killed, and two of Couch’s friends flew out of the truck bed and suffered severe injuries. One is unable to speak or move, while the other suffered broken bones and internal injuries.

This was not Couch’s first instance of driving while intoxicated. Twice before, he had been arrested for driving 89 miles per hour while under the influence. He pleaded no contest to both violations and was ordered to do community service and take an alcohol awareness class. Nonetheless, Judge Boyd appeared convinced that Couch would benefit most from being in a rehabilitation facility. Couch’s attorneys expressed appreciation that she knew the difference between the actions of a 16-year-old and the actions of a 25-year-old. They refuted the notion that Judge Boyd took one look at Couch and decided to offer him probation because he was a “rich white kid.” Prosecutors shot back, noting that it was Couch’s attorneys who raised the defense.

Judge Boyd’s sentence is not out of line with the changing emphasis in Texas from locking everyone up — which is more expensive and usually does not lead to meaningful rehabilitation — to putting offenders in treatment programs. However, it is questionable whether Couch’s sentence sends a bad message to others prone to drive while intoxicated, that they can be reckless with few consequences.

If you or a loved one has suffered due to an injury in a car accident caused by another driver, you may be entitled to compensation, including medical expenses, loss of wages, and pain and suffering. The experienced San Antonio personal injury attorneys at Carabin Shaw may be able to help. Call our office for more information at 1-800-862-1260.

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