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‘Affluenza’ defense: Wealthy teen Ethan Couch kills 4, no jail, luxury rehab

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The “affluenza” defense of wealthy Texas teen Ethan Couch, who killed four people while driving drunk, has the country in uproar. Because of Ethan Couch’s “affluenza” defense, a judge sentenced the 16-year-old rich Texas teen to rehabilitation instead of any jail time. “To the defense, the youth is himself a victim -- of ‘affluenza,’ according to one psychologist -- the product of wealthy, privileged parents who never set limits for the boy. To a judge, who sentenced Couch to 10 years' probation but no jail time, he's a defendant in need of treatment,” reported CNN on Dec. 12, 2013.

To the stunned family members of the four victims who Ethan Couch killed -- youth pastor Brian Jennings, mother and daughter Hollie and Shelby Boyles, and 24-year-old Breanna Mitchell – Tuesday’s verdict by a Fort Worth juvenile court judge in response to Ethan Couch’s “affluenza” defense is inconceivable.

Even though prosecutors had asked for a maximum sentence of 20 years behind bars for Ethan Couch, the judge sided with Ethan Couch’s lawyers' “affluenza” defense and sentenced the 16-year-old wealthy Texas teen to rehabilitation.

During Tuesday’s sentencing, Judge Jean Boyd said that the programs available in the Texas juvenile justice system would not provide the kind of intensive therapy that the wealthy teen needed.

Instead, the judge said, the rehabilitation center near Newport Beach in California, as suggested in his lawyer’s “affluenza” defense, would be more adequate for Ethan Couch, and his parents would pick up the tab for the rehabilitation center -- more than $450,000 a year for treatment.

On June 15, Ethan Couch and his friends were seen on surveillance video stealing two cases of beer from a local Walmart. With seven passengers in his Ford F-350, speeding at 68 and 70 miles-per-hour in a 40 mph zone, and a blood-alcohol level three times the legal limit, Ethan Couch slammed his Ford into four pedestrians, killing all of them.

After Tuesday’s sentencing to a luxury rehab instead of jail, Dr. Gary Buffone, a Jacksonville, Fla., psychologist who does family wealth advising, said on Thursday that the term “affluenza” was not meant to be used as a defense in a criminal trial or to justify murder.

“The simple term would be spoiled brat,” Dr. Gary Buffone said.

“Essentially what he (the judge) has done is slapped this child on the wrist for what is obviously a very serious offense which he would be responsible for in any other situation. The defense is laughable, the disposition is horrifying ... not only haven’t the parents set any consequences, but it’s being reinforced by the judge’s actions.”

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