(Winter’s Tale, act 5, sc. 1)
… And disbelief will probably be your reaction on learning about the event, of which I first read in a comment to an unrelated article online. This is why I invite the reader to verify the news independently. And after the verification, he/she will probably agree with the maxim, “When you believe that you have seen them all, you haven’t”.
In Texas (maybe where else?) Ethan Couch, the 16 year old offspring of a very wealthy family, drove a Ford F-350 family truck at 70 mph in a 40 mph zone. After losing control, he started a chain of collisions that caused the death of four people, a 24-year-old woman, Breanna Mitchell, whose car had broken down on the side of the road, Hollie Boyles and her 21-year-old daughter Shelby. Hollie and Shelbie lived nearby and had come out to help Ms. Mitchell. The fourth victim was Brian Jennings, a youth pastor who also came to help.
In Ethan Couch’s truck there were seven passengers, two of whom were seriously injured. Earlier in the same night, several of the passengers were caught on camera stealing two cases of beer from a local Walmart. Couch had three times the legal limit for alcohol allowed in an adult, and also traces of Valium in his blood. He pleaded guilty to four counts of intoxication manslaughter and two counts of intoxication assault causing serious bodily injury.
One year earlier, Couch had been ticketed when he was found in a parked pickup with a passed out, undressed, 14-year-old girl.
We hear or read of crimes committed by a juvenile who will be, nevertheless, tried as an adult. In the instance, however, the Texas judge sentenced Couch to ten-year probation, and to be treated in a rehabilitation center in California, where the residents’ rate is the paltry yearly sum of $450,000. The prosecutors and the victims’ families had asked for a 20-year jail sentence.
But it is not finished. Perhaps the most extraordinary element of the case is the argument used by the defense to obtain the verdict. A psychologist, Dr. Dick Miller, testified that Ethan Couch’s life could be salvaged with one to two years’ treatment and no contact with his parents. Why? Because his parents gave him “freedoms no young person should have.” He defined Ethan Couch a product of “affluenza” – meaning that his family felt that wealth bought privilege and that there is no rational link between behavior and consequences. In other words, wealth, not poverty, is a mitigationg factor for crime.
He was allowed to drive at 13 and received no parental reprimand after the ticket with the passed-out 14-year old girl. According to the same defense psychologist, Couch was “emotionally flat” and that is why he needed therapy in an upscale treatment center, rather than jail. Translation, if you are a wealthy criminal you can literally get away with murder.
Incidentally, the sentence-issuing judge, Jean Boyd, was appointed by Governor Rick Perry, ex-presidential candidate. It is not unreasonable to speculate that Couch’s parents are also political campaign contributors. But if anyone wanted to verify if this is so, he would not be able to. In the notorious “Citizen United” case, the Supreme (!) Court (!) Justices (!) ruled that money is the same as free speech. Which is the legal translation of the idiom, “money talks”. Therefore it is OK to finance politicians at will, and good luck when seeking to find out who gave how much to whom.
Now, even an unusually unintelligent child of 10 knows that you don’t give away money for nothing. And that the “contributors”, in return for their contributions, expect perks and laws written to favor their interest and accrue their wealth, at the expense of the non-contributors.
But thanks to the Supreme Court, if and how much the Couch family contributed to the politicians must remain a speculation. As for the killer Couch, Falstaff’s pronouncement would be, “…for though the chamomile, the more it is trodden on, the faster it grows, yet youth, the more it is wasted, the sooner it wears.” (King Henry IV part 1) – which is no great relief to the families of the (7) victims.
We can easily imagine what would have happened in the case of an identical crime committed by a poor offender of similar age. Nor we can omit mentioning the hundreds of thousands locked up with long sentences for non-violent crimes – mostly connected with drugs.
As for “justice”, the word has a long history, deriving from the Latin “jus” which is almost a synonym of “reason”. The reason passed on to us from Greek and Roman thought over two-thousand years ago.
In the instance, however, if the Texas justice system used reason, then justice is an oxymoron.
In the play. Perdita, daughter of Leontes, king of Sicilia, was believed dead for years. A Lord announces her at-first-unbelievable appearance to the pleasantly stunned Leontes.