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Apr 25
2016

Juvenile Crimes

Tarrant County resident Ethan Couch and his despicable behavior has drawn national attention. His case has also focused a white-hot spotlight on the juvenile justice system. The case has further solidified what many believe to be true. On its face, the saga of Ethan Couch proves that two justice systems operate in this country: one for the rich and one for the rest of us. Couch’s lawyers fought hard for a sentence that would both punish and rehabilitate him. Judge Jean Boyd gave him that chance and he blew it. Couch’s flight to Mexico then opposing extradition renewed the argument. However, his subsequent capture and incarceration may finally level the scales of justice for his victim’s families.

District Court Judge Jean Boyd, now retired, found herself on the hot seat for the sentence she gave Ethan Couch. It seemed like a slap on the wrist considering that Couch committed a horrific crime. According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, in 2013, Couch drove while highly intoxicated (0.24 blood alcohol concentration) after his friends begged him not to drive and slammed into a disabled motorist, killing her and the three good Samaritans who had stopped to help. At least two passengers in Couch’s car were injured as well. Couch was charged with four counts of intoxicated manslaughter and two counts of intoxicated assault. Tarrant County prosecutors decided to charge Couch as a juvenile instead of proceeding against him as an adult. Couch pleaded responsible to the charges and argued sentencing. His defense lawyer knew just how important it was to have him tried as a youth, because juvenile crime punishments are much more forgiving.

At this point, there was no question of guilt or innocence. The question for Judge Boyd was the sentence she would impose. The prosecution recommended a 20-year prison term. The defense fought hard for probation, which they argued was a just sentence. The defense called a psychologist as an expert witness to explain that Couch was unloved by his parents and instead of disciplining and loving him as a parent should, they spoiled him because they are rich. This, according to the expert, led Couch to believe that he could live without consequences for bad behavior because of his parents’ money.

Judge Boyd faced a tough decision. She placed Couch on probation for 10 years, ordered him to complete therapy, and prohibited him from driving as well as consuming alcohol. The Star-Telegram quoted Judge Boyd as saying that Couch was responsible for his actions and not his parents, and that this “affluenza” the defense argued caused his criminal behavior had nothing to do with it. While explaining her sentencing rationale, Judge Boyd strongly hinted that the Texas Juvenile Justice Department is broken. Judge Boyd stated that she has sentenced youths to programs that the Juvenile Justice Department never put them in, to the detriment of the child.  Judge Boyd’s sentencing rationale suggests that because Couch came from money, he would be able to pay for the therapy and programming he needed instead of being incarcerated in a broken system that would be unable to care for his needs. Thus, she fashioned a sentence based upon the individual rather than taking a cookie-cutter approach to sentencing.

Judge Boyd’s conclusions were based upon a faulty premise.  Her sentence is based upon the willingness of Couch to be rehabilitated, or at least his parents’ willingness to rehabilitate him.  Based upon recent developments, that assumption appears to be wrong. Ethan Couch was recently returned to Texas from Mexico after fleeing with his mother. The Star-Telegram has reported that Couch was apprehended and is now being held in a juvenile detention center in Tarrant County and will be held at least until a hearing in February. According to the New York Times, Couch and his mother fled to Mexico after having a good-bye party with Couch’s friends and changing their appearances in an attempt to avoid a probation violation for consuming alcohol.

Where To Turn For Help

Every criminal defendant, especially juveniles, deserve highly specialized and individualized representation. There are many issues that juvenile justice presents. Fort Worth criminal defense attorney Brandon Fulgham is a former prosecutor who is experienced in defending the rights of the accused and providing them with the best defense possible. Call Attorney Fulgham today at 817-886-3280 for a free consultation.

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