Ethan Couch Should Have Gone to Prison, but Justice? There's No Justice for Texas Kids.

Categories: Schutze

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If most kids go to the ash heap, is it unjust to let one escape?
The Ethan Couch story is a tough one for me, because you know I always like ragging on rich people. And it seems hard to read District Judge Jean Boyd's sentence any way other than as a get-out-of-jail-free card for a kid whose parents could afford to put him in a high-rent whiskey school.

See also:
Keller Teen Gets Probation for Drunken Wreck that Killed 4, Pissing Off Just About Everyone

But I don't know. Because we condemn everybody else's kid to violent prisons, does that mean it's unjust to let any one kid go?

The Texas juvenile justice system is way better now than it was six years ago when The Dallas Morning News and The Texas Observer exposed an appalling child rape scandal involving hundreds of state employees with criminal records of their own. Two state departments were collapsed into one; sentencing guidelines were changed to reduce overall youth prison population to a fourth now of what it was then; nonprofit groups like the Annie E. Casey Foundation and Texas Appleseed developed healthy roles as monitors from without.

But it's still a system you'd do anything on earth to keep your own kid out of. A story last year in The Amarillo Globe-News quoted Michele Deitch, a criminal justice expert at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at UT Austin, as saying, "Youth on youth violence is still high and the use of pepper spray is unacceptably high. We need better gang management and early intervention."

Officials within the Texas juvenile justice system told the Globe-News that the new sentencing guidelines have had the effect of distilling the youth prison population down to a more violent few.

Bill Monroe, senior director of finance and technology at the Texas Juvenile Justice Department, said, "We are dealing with more violent children."

The paucity of mental health care for anyone including kids means that more kids with severe problems wind up in the juvenile justice system, according to state officials quoted in the story.

So here's what I'm thinking. Let's say I'm the parent of this rich drunk kid from Keller who pleaded guilty to killing four people in traffic while blind drunk. The kid already had a history of drunken driving, which I as his parent had failed to do anything about.

And, look, all that stuff about the "affluenza defense" offered by his lawyers -- how his parents had failed to teach him right from wrong so it wasn't his fault? You just have to toss that stuff in the verbal Dumpster as the kind of courtroom trash-talk that lawyers say when they have no conceivable real defense to offer. I heard the same thing once in a case in Florida where the lawyers said the defendant teenagers had been scarred by callous suburban culture. The judge blew it off as the "fear of lawnmowers" defense.

Everybody knows it's junk. The real defense is: "This kid's parents can afford a very expensive whiskey school for him, so why toss him onto the human trash heap of a brutal state prison system? Maybe he can be saved by the whiskey doctors. Why not try?"

I know what the answer is. You should dump him onto the trash heap, because you dump everybody else's kid on the trash heap. And as one of the loved ones of the dead said on TV last night, "At some point there has to be justice."

I get all that. I believe all that. I'm just not convinced that justice is what we have to offer. And if I put myself in the shoes of Ethan Couch's parents, then, yes, I'm going to do whatever I can to keep him out. Maybe what the rest of us need to do is work to provide a more dignified and decent system of punishment for all kids.


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69 comments
acpa4u
acpa4u

16 year olf kid screwed up.  I guess it's society's position that they should screw him up forever.

roo_ster
roo_ster

Retribution is a legitimate function of our legal system.  If one believes in social contracts, this is the contract where me & mine agree not to start a blood feud after a loved one is killed and let the gov't handle it.


If the gov't gets into the habit of not punishing and not exacting retribution from those that provably harm others, we can expect both less faith in gov't and for folks to take matters into their own hands due to the busted social contract.

bvckvs
bvckvs topcommenter

There's no saving someone AFTER they become a murderer.

The time to save them is beforehand.


swampwiz
swampwiz

So why if I were to be found with a marijuana joint, not hurting a soul, I would get 5 years of hard labor?  Oh, that's right; the only way that the Prison Industrial Complex will let me not pad its shareholder value is if I'm wealthy enough to pad the Rehabilitation Industrial Complex.

dflyarts
dflyarts

Tell you what here- you want this to be about giving one kid a chance and not about money deferring justice? Fine- he goes and his parents pay, but his parents should also pay for kids who don't have the money/opportunity for such facilities to go to the same rehab. Say to the tune of... one kid in rehab for each person their drunken brat killed? Seems the least they could do.

MargaretHuntHill
MargaretHuntHill

Justice is a very elusive concept, and not to be too mentally mushy, but I really believe it changes over time and with perspective.  Incarceration is traditionally justified by 3 societal interests: protection of society, rehabilitation, and retribution. 

Protection of society sort of explains itself.  Locking up dangerous people makes sense to just about everyone, and the other part of protection of society is deterrence.  If there are no consequences, potential offenders are not deterred.  But even this most basic reason for prison is losing some of its logical appeal.  Crimes resulting from poor mental health care don't pose a big danger of recurrence if the offender can get treatment.  Ignition interlocks and ankle monitors can keep less serious offenders out of prison. Strangely (to me anyway), the deterrent effect of incarceration is really hard to prove, especially with drunk driving.  Seems like that should work better than it does.


Rehabilitation has generally been the humane fig leaf covering a brutal system.  Few people believe in it anymore.  But the payoff if it works is so high that we'll keep trying it as long as we still have prisons.  And more recent developments in inmate education and job training seem to show some results.  Now if we could only figure out how to remove the post-incarceration barriers to employment, we might actually give some former inmates productive lives.


Retribution is really easy to understand.  If you're not at least a little mad at this kid, I just don't think you've properly considered the victims or their families.  Such a staggering loss of life for no good reason at all.  99% of us work hard all the time to make our society run right or at least to get by without hurting people, and this jackass goes out and kills 4 of us.  If we lock him up for a dozen years, who can legitimately complain?  Problem is that at some point we get tired of paying to have our anger soothed.  Principles are expensive, and after we feel better, how much is it worth to us to vindicate principles?  $25K/yr/prisoner?  Uh oh, now my tax bill feels retributive, and I didn't even break the law.


And that's this case.  If this kid gets treatment and monitoring, he's unlikely to re-offend, and the science is pretty clear that the 16-yr-old brain is half-baked at best; so he's probably got a better shot at becoming a different person than your average hardened criminal.  I don't think that locking this guy up will cause even one more person to drink responsibly.  It's just our deep well of anger at him - for wasting his privileged upbringing, for his callousness toward our safety, for his ridiculous legal argument - and toward his horse's ass parents that makes us want to see him sent to Stripe City (really, we'd prefer flogging).  I'm not for one minute saying he doesn't deserve it, but what outcome are we looking for here?  He deserves it, but do we?

ozonelarryb
ozonelarryb

What is his dad's business?

Can it be boycotted?

K.M.G.
K.M.G.

A trash heap is where you put trash. This kid is trash.

Injustice
Injustice

Stealing ,drinking under age , driving drunk ,run over and killed 4 innocent people.

16 years old

He is too fragile for jail agreed

Juvenile detention center till he turns 18 then  forced to get a degree in youth corrections and then serve a sentence counseling juveniles in a detention center for whatever time he would have been sentenced to jail as a adult. If he fails to comply then tried as a adult at 18

jamessavik
jamessavik

In the old days judges used to sentence dumb ass kids to the Marine Corps. That helped a lot of kids get over their "affluenza". They don't do it now but I have seen some good work with youth boot camps. Kids aren't coddled, they learn some discipline and some lives have been saved.

Honestly, I wouldn't know what to do with a case like this. 4 bodies can't be ignored. Throwing kids in adult prison is NOT a good idea unless you just want to feed the predators.


 


Tim.Covington
Tim.Covington

Yeah, I have to agree with you on this one. There can be no justice in this case. The kid killed 4 people. No punishment we can inflict him will ever make up for that. And, throwing his a$$ in prison will do no good. If some mental health facility can rescue his life and actually turn him into a decent human being, I am all for it.

To be honest, IMO, the ones who need the most punishment are his parents. They should be paying to the families of the victims for a very long time. If I had ever driven drunk, my parents would not have let me near a vehicle until I was out of the house on my own, and I would be paying for it myself. This is one of the things they made abundantly clear when I started learning to drive. I believe that every year, on the anniversary of the deaths, the parents of Ethan Couch should be required to prostrate themselves begging forgiveness from the families of the victims.

sharatch
sharatch

Until the utopian vision of "a more dignified and decent system of punishment for all kids" materialises, this spoilt worthless douchebag should've been tossed into the same can into which the 14 year old Black kid charged with one count of manslaughter was tossed by the same judge.

gritsforbreakfast1
gritsforbreakfast1

A few things: First, a probated sentence is hardly unusual for intoxication manslaughter, even for adults, and even when juries instead of judges do the sentencing. (The Dallas News has covered this before, or Google Gabriele Nestande.) 

Also, for the unitiated, this case was in juvenile court, which is a civil not a criminal proceeding, and the judge was specifically charged with issuing a verdict that's in the best interest of the child. The goal of juvenile courts under Texas law isn't punishment in the same way adult criminal courts punish. After the 2007 reforms Schutze mentioned, the only kids sent to youth prison anymore in Texas are typically those who commit intentional acts of violence or mentally ill kids from communities with no treatment resources. For the most part those reforms have been very positive and juvenile crime dropped after they were implemented.


Finally, we are living in an era of rampant overcriminalization, but the criminal justice system cannot be the solution to every tragedy or social problem. This tragedy was caused by negligence and is more tort than crime - the situation lacks mens rea, or criminal intent. Bottom line: The kid's case was handled appropriately. The place to seek vengeance is in a lawsuit against the parents, and after the defense offered in the boy's case, they'll be hard-pressed to escape liability.

leftocenter
leftocenter

It's all about the money.  A black kid who killed someone playing knockout went to prison, because they couldn't find a place to send him.  No one would take him.  Because his parent didn't have money.

A retiring judge?  The judge will be buying a new mercedes and taking vacations with the bribe money...

PerryMoore
PerryMoore

Ah yes, the Jim Schutze Defense: It's the village's fault.This defense is more fair than the "affluenza" defense, because we can use it to defend everybody, regardless of class, race, gender, sexual orientation, or reality.

Warlick
Warlick

And yet this very same Judge threw the book at a poor, 14-year-old black kid who was also convicted of *ONE* count of manslaughter.


But keep telling yourselves this isn't about class and/or race.

DFWconspiracy
DFWconspiracy

Just put a breathylizer in everyone's car. Problem solved. Quit bitching.

sos0
sos0

Rehab is the "treatment", but there also has to be a "punishment" phase, or there is no real deterrent from recommitting the same offense. 


Did anyone get his schedule at the SPA: Something like, Yoga everyday, meditation, horseback classes....so on and so forth. There are a lot of current prisoners that would love those schedules, especially with those beautiful Ocean Views!! Come on, two Justice systems is wrong.  

oBar
oBar

The last two paragraphs of this article are my favorite. Why are we throwing children away when they can receive services to correct their behavior? And abusing and traumatizing children is not justice.


I read a different article about this case/judge. She does try rehabilitating children... not just the rich ones. I would agree with the people that say more needs to be done for minority children.  http://www.wfaa.com/news/local/Decision-in-16-year-olds-drunk-driving-case-raises-questions-about-judges-previous-decision-235688241.html


Best practices for juvenile justice recognize that children are different from adults. They are very receptive to rehabilitation because they are still developing. Children should be confined for as short a time possible and only when absolutely necessary. The evidence based best practices lead to safer communities and less tax dollars.


The judge seems to have kept her skill set up to date... the prosecutor... not so much.

John1073
John1073

I've got no problem if the kid goes to rehab and gets clean and realizes he's taken people's lives. But then every drunk driver should be given the same opportunity. Instead, most of them end up in prison if they committ a similar crime of vehicular homicide/manslaughter. In prison, they don't get treated. Our society would rather just lock up most people, rather than treat them properly. That is the problem here.

municipal_audio
municipal_audio

Prob the first time I've disagreed with Jim in my life.

SarcasmoJones
SarcasmoJones

If Ethan had been a black kid from Oak Lawn or Stop Six, and had killed 4 people in a drunken crash, he would have been tried as an adult and he certainly wouldn't be receiving treatment for his "addiction." Why is a rich white boy more deserving of consideration and leniency by our judicial system than those of us who live paycheck to paycheck? Rehab and probation won't bring those dead folks back. His debt to society and the family of the people that he killed is considerable, and will go unpaid.

dallas_dude
dallas_dude

Want to hear something really cynical.....He was charged with injuring the two other people riding in the bed of the truck along with killing those other 4 people.  One of those kids is really fucked up.  I'm hoping one of the other kids dies that way they can charge him with another count of vehicular manslaughter and maybe get it right this time.

ryan762
ryan762

@MargaretHuntHillIf every kids that goes through the juvenile justice system got the same consideration that Couch got, then there might be a case to be made that, even though he committed a crime with a lot of victims, that rehabilitation is just what it's all about. People would still be mad, probably, but the sentence would be defensible.


But the kid just before and just after Couch isn't going to get that same consideration. The vast majority of kids who go through the juvenile justice system are not going to get that same consideration, so what we're saying is that the juvenile justice system is rehabilitation for a select few (based on their wealth or connections) and everybody else gets the retribution.


I could just as easily say that a 31 year-old with no previous run-ins with the law could be rehabilitated if given probation. But we gave Erica Kolanowski 16 years for killing one person and 10 years for injuring another. That's not a juvenile case, but there's no reason to think a 31 year-old with no previous criminal record couldn't be rehabilitated anymore than a 16 year-old with previous run-ins with the law could be.


But beyond that, like I said, we don't give the same consideration even for other juveniles. We're going to spend all this time talking about how the juvenile courts are geared toward rehabilitation and then the next kid through there is going to get the book thrown at him.

Here2Opine
Here2Opine

@jamessavik Don't forget the kid that's going to be a vegetable for life and the 8 others he injured.

WhiteWhale
WhiteWhale

@Tim.Covington I agree with you to some extent.  According to the defense hired doctor the killer teen does not understand right from wrong, has a huge sense of entitlement and believes (rightly it turns out) that money can buy him out of anything.  The judge ironically has reinforced Ethan's belief system.  The country club rehab at best might manage his future substance abuse issues.  Even that is doubtful.  The problem is not just justice, punishment or retribution, it is the failure for any real consequences directly relating to his repeating crimes.  Perhaps if Ethan had been sent to boot camp for a couple of months and had to spend some supervised time caring for his paralyzed passenger before the country club rehab.  

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

@gritsforbreakfast1 sorry, but its pretty much been decided in court that drinking, driving and then killing someone while driving is criminal intent.  You drank, you knew its against the law to drive drunk, yet you did and you operated a deadly weapon while doing so.

fiveonesix1969
fiveonesix1969

@leftocenter Actually, the best thing that could have happened to the "knockout" player was two rounds in the chest, and one in the head by an armed victim. You can't compare purposeful acts of racist violence (and most "knockout " perps ARE targeting victims based on race) with DUI (which is a crime of irresponsibility, NOT malice!)


fiveonesix1969
fiveonesix1969

@Warlick Actually, it's more about intent.

"Knockout King" is a form of racist violence... a HATE CRIME... and is purposeful, hate-driven, predatory behavior. People who do this sort of thing (regardless of race) don't tend to be salvageable, and get more dangerous as they get older.

DUI (even with fatal results) is a crime of stupidity and irresponsibility. In the case of a 16-year-old, he might be salvageable (how many wise and responsible 16-year-old boys do YOU know? Not many I'll wager.)

Had Couch been HUNTING VICTIMS (like that young racist "knockout" predator) and killed someone, don't think for a minute that he wouldn't have ended up doing time (and deservedly so.) But he wasn't out hunting victims. He was STUPID, not malevolent. INTENT is the key concept here!!!

Anser
Anser

@sos0We have had more than "TWO" justice systems from the beginning. I am happy that a judge finally has the wisdom to know that incarceration would not help.

Anser
Anser

@oBarFrom all I read the "minority" children are getting so many breaks it is hard to count all their charges by the time they are 21 years of age. This has nothing to do with money or race. It has to do with the JUDGE. I am so grateful to see wisdom instead of ignorance. The comments are always so sadist. Comment like the ones about bubba and all that. Wise Judge and I do hope No one and nothing alters her decision.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

Now you must spread your wings and fly!

Anser
Anser

@SarcasmoJonesRich blacks as well as poor blacks are getting off just as easy. The difference is the rehabilitation costs. Check out some of the charges after charges after charges on the records of Black teens. If they had money they could go to rehab and many do have money and do go but so far as easy sentencing....they do get off many, many times over.

jmckee3
jmckee3

Oak Lawn? Or do you mean Oak Cliff because I don't know if you have looked at the Oak Lawn demographics lately but it isn't lacking in rich people.

Anser
Anser

@dallas_dudeThat is a horrible thought. Sad that someone could want horror top happen to a young boy so badly.

bvckvs
bvckvs topcommenter

@ScottsMerkin@bvckvs

No, the question the author asked was about "saving" this kid, not rehabilitating him.

kduble
kduble

@JohnSmallBerries Go back and read the post. Juvenile justice is different from adult court.

kduble
kduble

@ScottsMerkin Go back and read the post. Juvenile justice is different from adult court.

John1073
John1073

Look a couple blocks off of Cedar Springs towards Maple. There are plenty of poor people in Oak Lawn.

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