I defend people accused of crimes. Some of those crimes involve drunk driving. A surprisingly high number of those arrests can be remarkably benign and legally unjustified, and in those cases I am proud to fight my hardest to bring out the facts and to defend my client’s legal, constitutional rights. Almost all the time, no one is injured in these cases, and the persons that I represent are not low-life social reprobates.
But if you’re in the mood for an outrage-inducing legal story, read on. Just be ready to spit nails in anger or disgust. I wouldn't blame you if you did.
The bare facts: Drunken driving case. Four people killed. Horribly grieving victims left forever more without their loved ones. Nine people injured. Two gravely; one so gravely he cannot move or talk due to brain injuries suffered in the carnage. He probably never will; his fate is in a way worse than death: Completely paralyzed, he can apparently communicate only by blinking his eyes to signal “yes” and no.”
The source of all this carnage? It wasn't someone who simply had literally one drink too many and whose blood alcohol level was just over the legal limit. It wasn't someone with no prior offenses who was otherwise a good and law-abiding person, and just didn'’t realize he or she was too tired to have that second drink before driving home. As a Wrentham, Massachusetts drunk driving lawyer, I’ve often defended those types of everyday people. When I represent such clients, I’ve argued their constitutional rights to a fair trial, and I've been proud to.
But the defendant in this case is no average, decent, other-wise law-abiding citizen, who just made an error in judgment. No, the defendant is a 16 year-old boy from near Forth Worth, Texas, who was driving blindingly drunk behind the wheel of a pickup truck, on a joy ride with some friends, on June 15. This little twerp’s name is Ethan Couch, and the story gets worse than he was just driving drunk at 16 years old. Earlier that night, Couch – a filthy rich, spoiled rotten kid, and his similarly arrogant friends stole two cases of beer from a local Walmart. A grossly wealthy, over-privileged brat, stealing booze from a Walmart.
This flaming little moron then chose to drive daddy’s snazzy Ford F-350 pickup (along with seven passengers,) blindingly drunk with a blood alcohol level three times the legal limit for an adult. Racing at wildly high speeds, he plowed into innocent pedestrians, killing four people in the process and injuring nine. Tarrant County police say Couch was racing 70 miles-per-hour in daddy’s Ford F-350, in a 40 mph zone when this poster boy for anyone who ever deserved a good beating, triggered a deadly chain of collisions that savagely ended the lives of : 24-year-old Breanna Mitchell, whose car had, in a horrible case of bad timing, become disable on the side of the road; Hollie Boyles and her 21-year-old daughter Shelby, who lived nearby and had come outside to help Mitchell; and Brian Jennings, a youth pastor who was also playing the role of a good Samaritan. Two of the seven passengers riding in Couch's father’s truck were also seriously injured.
In addition to Couch’s s blood alcohol content being 0.24 - three times the legal alcohol limit for an adult, this Little Lord Fauntleroy also had traces of Valium in his system, according to blood test reports. Last week, He pleaded guilty to four counts of intoxication manslaughter and two counts of intoxication assault causing serious bodily injury.
But if you think you’ve read the worst of this, read on. The lawyers representing this arrogant, pathetic little troll had the audacity to argue not something so stunning as the Constitution, or something so unexpected as a violation of their client’s rights, or to actually contest the Breathalyzer tests or alcohol blood test. No, his lawyers actually argued to a judge that this little twerp “suffered” – yes, “suffered” – as a “victim” – yes, “victim,” of what some quack psychologist calls “affluenza.” What’s that, you ask? You mean you haven’t heard of that ‘famous’ legal defense? It seems that this rich, spoiled rotten kid, is to be ‘pitied,’ because he is the ‘victimized product’ of wealthy, over-privileged parents who “never set limits for the boy.” Thus, because of this terrible condition, Couch never learned right from wrong, nor that he has to pay for the consequences of his actions. Be clear about something: This term ("affluenza,") was first used in the late 1990's by an author who was the granddaughter of a past president of General Motors. Essentially, the translation to the term is "spoiled brat." It was never meant to be used as a legal defense in court, and to my knowledge as a Boston OUI attorney, it never has been used.
Once more - if you think you’ve read the worst of this, read on. Because a judge sitting in Texas actually bought this otherwise laugh-out-of-court “argument,” and refused to sentence this little pathetic excuse of a person, to any jail time, at all. You read that correctly: This kid is not going to serve one hour in jail. For the violent deaths of four people, and the horrid, lifelong injuries, disabilities and nightmares of nine others. In fact, he’s going to an ultra-luxe “rehab” facility, courtesy of his wealthy parents. Couch’s lawyers argued that this rotten kid’s parents should ‘share part of the blame’ for the crash because as his parents they ‘never set limits for the teen, and always gave him everything he wanted.’
Stunned prosecutors had asked for the statutory maximum of 20 years. The sentence: Ten years of probation, no jail time. Alcohol education in a residential program, which his parents are reportedly ponying up over $250,00.00 for in a luxury, Newport Beach inpatient rehab center. I’ve seen these places. Translation: A luxury hotel, with everything you could possibly ask for, including “therapists” who tell you what an “authentically good person” you are; and that while you may have committed an act that was wrong – there is nothing wrong with you.
The survivors of these dead victims are beyond consolation. Eric Boyles, whose wife and daughter are dead because of this arrogant little troll, is one of them. This past Wednesday night, he told “Anderson Cooper 360" that, "For 25 weeks, I've been going through a healing process. And so when the verdict came out, I mean, my immediate reaction is -- I'm back to week 1. We have accomplished nothing here. My healing process is out the window."
I’m a Boston criminal defense attorney. I make my living defending people charged with crimes. And yet I don’t know what to say about what this judge has done here. This disposition is horrific. It enrages me. It even embarrasses me. This ‘sentence’ reflects liberalism run amok; political correctness gone wild. I don’t know who is the worse character in this story - this defendant or this judge. Both are in my professional opinion as a Massachusetts criminal defense attorney, beyond belief. This is what can tragically sometimes happen as the result of an independent judiciary. This sentence is awful. But if we disassemble the historical construct of our judicial system and the judicial independence that lies at its center, we will all eventually suffer. This is one of those nauseating examples of the legal maxim, “It is better to let a guilty man go free, than to jail an innocent one.” We have to accept it.
It’s my hope that people across Massachusetts and the entire country don’t see in this story a condemnation of defense lawyers in general. The depths sunk to in the defense of this prosecution are not what most lawyers are like. I, for one, work to achieve justice. And in so doing, I argue the Constitution – I don’t insult the judicial system in the process. This sentence is not, and never will be, a just outcome.
My apologies to my readers for not only these over-the-edge lawyers who argued this laughable defense, but much more so, for this flamingly, and indefensibly, liberal judge. Good luck to her sleeping well the rest of her nights. She’ll need it.