So this is American justice? The 16-year-old drunk driver who killed four pedestrians and critically injured two others, including my client Sergio Molina, will presumably serve no jail time. After two and a half days of heartbreaking testimony from the families of victims and others, Judge Jean Boyd sentenced Couch to a ten year probated sentence. The state had asked for the maximum 20 years in a juvenile facility and state penitentiary.
I attended the trial to learn more about what caused this horrendous tragedy. The testimony was heartbreaking and I won’t repeat the details here. They are outlined in the Original Petition I filed on September 6th, the first of six lawsuits that have been filed against Ethan Couch, his parents, and the company that owned the truck (owned by his father). I represent Sergio Molina, a young man who was critically injured in the collision.
Couch’s defense attorneys hired an expert witness psychologist who described Couch as a product of “affluenza.” The defense argued that because Couch was rich and his parents did not set boundaries, he did not understand the consequences of his actions and therefore should not go to jail for what he did.When the defense attorney requested probation in his opening and closing arguments, eyes rolled. Chief assistant district attorney Richard Alpert noted that if the judge granted leniency, there was no doubt that Couch would be soon back before him in another courtroom — this time complaining that the lenient sentence was to blame.
Every one was shocked when the judge read the sentence. Ethan Couch may spend a year at a posh rehab resort near Newport Beach, California costing a whopping $1,200 per day or at another treatment center.
Parallels are being drawn between this case and the O.J. Simpson trial, but this is an even more shocking outcome. Simpson was acquitted by a jury because he had a high price defense attorney and because of inconsisencies with the prosecution’s case which did not convince the mostly African American jury that there was not a reasonable doubt regarding his guilt. In this case, Couch did not contest the charges. He admitted that he was driving drunk and killed four people, critically injured Sergio, and injured others. The fact that he was rich wasn’t just important because it allowed him to have a high powered legal team. Their actual defense was that because he was rich, he shouldn’t go to jail.Many critics believe that the judge might have bought into this crazy notion.The nearly universal response from people posting on the internet is that this sentence is outrageous. Ethan Couch is the most searched term on the entire internet and Twitter today.
Since the criminal courts have failed to get justice for the family, I am hoping that the civil juries will award large verdicts to Sergio and the other victims’ families to punish Ethan and his family. If being rich is the reason he didn’t go to jail, maybe losing their money will help cure him of his “affluenza.”