Columns, Opinion

RENNER: Affluenza teen sets dangerous example

The “affluenza teen,” the name many people know Ethan Couch by, has been in and out of the news since June 2013. And his plea of affluenza has set a shaky precedent in a few recent court cases.

On June 15, 2013, Couch was driving while intoxicated in Burleson, Texas and ended up plowing into a group of people on the side of the road. As a result, four people were killed: a motorist, a minister and a mother and daughter, the Associated Press reported.

G. Dick Miller, Couch’s psychologist, used and later described the term “affluenza,” a term still unrecognized by spellcheck, as being synonymous with “spoiled brat.” Miller also told Anderson Cooper of CNN that he wished he “hadn’t used that term,” because “everyone seems to have hooked onto it.” This word played to the juvenile aspect of Couch’s case, which was kept out of the adult court despite controversy. And now, Couch is slated to go back to court Friday to be tried as either an adult or a juvenile.

Miller used the word “affluenza” to suggest that all Couch really needed was some time away from his parents, who were apparently the cause of his reckless behavior, and therapy to turn himself around. The judge agreed. He only gave Couch 10 years of probation instead of a hefty 20-year maximum jail sentence, the one catch being that if Couch somehow violated this probation, he could face 10 years behind bars.

The so-called affluenza still gripped Couch when he attempted to flee the United States for Mexico. Just weeks after he was listed in the national fugitive database, Couch and his mother were detained. Perhaps now, as his punishment is being determined, the people who lost their loved ones because of him in June 2013 will finally feel as though justice has been served.

The most troubling aspect of this case is the precedent it could set in future cases. Now that affluenza is recognized by Wikipedia, both the layperson and lawyer have a sense of what it means and can see how it can be successfully used to skirt punishment.

The effects of this case are still being felt today. reported one teen’s attempt to defend sexually assaulting a woman in front of her two children because “he was traumatized by watching a pornographic movie two years before.”

ABC News reported the prosecutor’s disgust with a court’s decision to try an 18 year old as a juvenile after he murdered his entire family, simply because he “had shown he [was] receptive to psychological treatment.”

And finally, The Tennessean reported Monday that “a female juvenile allegedly stabbed two other juveniles and attempted to strangle one at a Dickson residence Sunday night before driving off in a vehicle that she allegedly then crashed into a utility pole, causing a power outage in the area, according to Dickson police.” Will this teen be charged as a juvenile? Will she receive any punishment at all? We’ll have to see. But if the affluenza case is any precedent, we’ll be unhappy with the outcome.

The affluenza teen has set an extremely inappropriate example, and although many people would agree with that statement, he has yet to face consequences to make up for the first decision made by the court. These juveniles make up the rising generation who will assume dominant roles in our society. As fellow young people who can be categorized with these criminals, it is our job to prevent cases such as these from propagating in our future courts.

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