Taking Responsibility, Texas style

A 16-year-old Texas teenager is learning how to take responsibility the “hard” way.  Thanks to the hardcore punishment system that is the Texas justice system, Mr. Ethan Couch was sentenced to 10 years probation for killing four people and seriously injuring two others during a drunk driving accident in June.

From the Star-Telegram:

The 16-year-old pleaded guilty last week to four counts of intoxication manslaughter and two counts of intoxication assault causing serious bodily injury. Killed were Breanna Mitchell of Lillian, whose car broke down the night of June 15 on Burleson-Retta Road; Hollie and Shelby Boyles, who lived nearby and had come outside to help Mitchell; and Burleson youth minister Brian Jennings, a passer-by who had also stopped to help.

The teen admitted to being drunk when he lost control of his pickup. He had seven passengers in his Ford F-350, was speeding, had a blood-alcohol level three times the legal limit, plus traces of Valium in his system, according to earlier testimony.

Mr. Couch reportedly had a BAC of .24% at the time of the accident.  Now, how did this 16-year-old get his hands on enough beer to get that drunk??  According to reports, he and his friends used the old “Five Finger Discount Card” at a nearby Wal-Mart.  Along with the four killed, Couch also severely injured two of his friends that were riding in his truck with him.  One of them can now only communicate with people by blinking his eye.

Now, as for that hardcore punishment, Mr. Couch was sentenced to 10 years probation, counseling, and rehab.  That’s it.  No jail time.  No tour of jail.  No drive by the jailhouse on his way home.  Nothing.  His defense, which appears to have been bought by the judge, was that he was not responsible for his behavior because of his upbringing.  According to a psychologist that examined Couch:

His parents had a volatile and co-dependent relationship, and had a contentious divorce, said Gary Miller, who began evaluating the teen on the day he was released from a hospital after the wreck.

The parents argued often, which the teen witnessed, Miller said.

The teen’s father “does not have relationships, he takes hostages,” Miller said. Miller described the mother as a desperate woman who used her son as a tool to get her husband to act the way she wanted.

The mother gave the teen things, Miller said. “Her mantra was that if it feels good, do it,” Miller said.

The teen’s intellectual age was 18, but his emotional age was 12, Miller told Boyd.

“The teen never learned to say that you’re sorry if you hurt someone,” Miller said. “If you hurt someone, you sent him money.”

As a child, he had to make adult decisions, Miller said. He had a motorcycle when he was 4 or 5 and was driving large pickups at 13, Miller said. The teen was a high school graduate at 16, but could not say where he went to school, where he went to church and had no friends, Miller said.

His parents never taught him the things that good parents teach children, Miller said.

“He never learned that sometimes you don’t get your way,” Miller said. “He had the cars and he had the money. He had freedoms that no young man would be able to handle.”

Basically, if you’re a spoiled, rich kid, you don’t go to jail when you commit crimes because of your upbringing.  You were not taught responsibility or how to handle yourself as an adult.

That’s 100% pure hot and steamy bovine fecal matter (*NSFW image), if you ask me.  If the shoe were on the other foot with some poor kid who wasn’t raised right, that poor kid would be sitting in jail right now instead of getting probation.  We see it play out every day in real life.

So, to teach responsibility to someone who’s had everything given to him and never had to make adult decisions, the judge lets him walk on killing four people in an accident.  The kid stole beer (shoplifting), got drunk (contributing to the delinquency of a minor), hit a stalled vehicle while drunk (DUI), and killed four people (murder/manslaughter).  Breaking all those laws in one single act nets a 10 year probation sentence with a shot at going to a high-end treatment center in California?

I guess it’s all in who you are nowadays or who you’re connected to.  I honestly don’t see a poor kid in this same situation getting the same sentence.  It may be the cynic in me, but based on past performance, justice has not been meted out in this manner for those without means.

9 thoughts on “Taking Responsibility, Texas style

  1. I had the same initial reaction when I read about it this morning. Happened near hear. If he’d been sentenced to 20 he could’ve been out in 2. Judge had said she’d sentenced others to state programs but they couldn’t get in and the programs are not ‘intensive’ which is what this immature thing needs. The Calif facility costs around $450,000 a year, which the family will pay. Plus, probation for 10 means any slipups he can be off to prison.

    Earlier article expanded on how he drove the pickup to the private school when he was 13. Principal called dad, dad said ‘what’s he problem? He’s a better driver than anyone I know.”

    Several civil lawsuits pending against the family and the father’s business (tie-in must be the truck was a company truck). I’m in another county so the family can be thankful I’ll not be on the civil jury.

    About the best I can say is he’ll be on a leash for a decade. But how you teach empathy to a kid like that I don’t know.


    • Paul

      I’m at a loss for words on this one. On one hand, I can see taking it easy on him because of his age and all, but at the same time, the judge is feeding right into the very thing that put him in that predicament.

      The kid’s basically been given anything and everything with no repercussions or punishment for bad behavior. In my view, they may as well just give him a gold “get out of jail free” card because that same upbringing will be the same excuse for the next time he does something.

      I seriously hope I’m wrong and treatment helps the kid out, but I just don’t see it happening.


      • Sorry this kid had a tough upbringing but thousands of others have been through the same or worse and turned out pretty well. Unfortunately, in all these strange cases we hear about (every single day it seems), you can’t legislate responsibility, you can only punish the irresponsible when they screw up. I’m not necessarily saying let him build 20 years but I think given the fact 4 people died, and evidently a couple more were maimed, probation only doesn’t make sense, to me. He should’ve at least done a year or something.

        There’s a bit of the old “let it slide” going on here, though. When he drove to school at 13, looks like his dad could’ve faced a charge of some sort for that. Of course, I live in a small community (don’t know if this kid is from a small or big place) so I know how these things work. Some folks get looked after and some don’t. Depends on who you know and who you’re kin to, in a lot of cases.

        If you’re connected, things get swept under the rug and if you’re not, you get an overworked public defender who does the best he can. Strange way to run a justice system.

        As for this kid, you’d think this would be his wake-up call, even though way too late, but who knows? Maybe he learns from it or maybe he thinks he beat the rap.


        • I know of places like that where everybody knows everybody and a 13 or 14 year old driving wouldn’t be too far from ordinary. Mostly they drive on farms or private land, but every once in a while, they will do the trip to the store or something like that.

          If you’re letting one kid off the hook because of their upbringing, then what motive is there to teach responsibility? I hope this kid learns, but I’ve seen a few similar stories play out, and most ended with serious prison time.


          • I had a friend (now deceased) who started getting into trouble fairly young. Nothing serious for a while but escalated over time. He didn’t come from money but he was a likable guy and they’d always set it up where he could do his state time in the local county jail. That was basically like summer camp for him (except he liked to go in winter, hot food, warm bed, etc). Anyhow, the last time he got in trouble, they finally sent him to Jackson. He didn’t like it there worth a damn. When he got home, he didn’t get in any more trouble but by then the years of substance abuse had taken their toll and he only lived a couple more years. I’ve always wondered how things would’ve turned out if they had sent him off the first time or two, way back. Maybe he would’ve learned; maybe not. I know you could talk to him ’til you were blue in the face and it just never sunk in.


          • Situations like the one with your friend makes it a bit easier to see the situation from the ground floor. I always said that I want to live my life by having as few regrets or second guesses as possible. I know it’s practically impossible to avoid them altogether.


  2. I don’t know if it would have been an option to put the kid in confinement for a year or so and then send him on to the facility. Screws up in the facility, back to jail then keep repeating.

    Really brings the punishment/rehabilitation/or both issues to the fore, doesn’t it?


    The school he drove the truck to was a small, private school. Principal called in the dad, dad gave her a reluctant ‘yeah, well, he won’t do it again’ and no police involved. Students at expensive, small private schools? School doesn’t want to lose the tuition so they can drop the ball, too.


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