The Texas "affluenza" teen, otherwise known as Ethan Couch, first became the subject of news in 2013 when he killed four people in a drunk-driving accident. Couch, now 18 years old, was just 16 when he was charged as a juvenile for crashing into an SUV parked on the side of a two-lane road while going more than 70 miles per hour, according to the Associated Press. Four people in the SUV died, and Couch also injured some of his friends inside of his own vehicle, two of whom were riding in the back of his pickup truck. Though he pleaded guilty on four counts of intoxication manslaughter and two counts of intoxication assault causing serious bodily injury, Couch was able to shirk accountability for his fatal actions. And that's where the heart of his case lies.
Couch was ultimately diagnosed with what his defense expert termed "affluenza," suggesting that he is a product, or victim, of his affluent and wealthy upbringing that involved being spoiled by his parents. According to the AP, the term is not recognized by the American Psychiatric Association. So how can it justify Couch's actions? Most Americans following the case wondered the same thing. Even so, the diagnosis ended up playing an arguably key role in Couch's sentence. The judge sentenced Couch to 10 years of probation and a small amount of time at a rehabilitation center — and no jail time.
Both Couch and his mother made their way back into the news two years later when the teen failed to show up to a Dec. 10 meeting with his probation officer in Tarrant County, Texas. A manhunt ensued, and officers had an inkling as to why the teen would try to make a run for it. Couch's probation officer had reportedly found a video of him at a party, and he was allegedly playing a drinking game. If Couch was, in fact, consuming alcohol, he would risk facing up to 10 years in prison for violating parole. According to ABC News, U.S. Marshals even posted a "wanted" poster with Couch's face on it. As of Dec. 21, they were offering $5,000 for any information on his whereabouts.
This Monday evening, U.S. Marshals got their answer. Couch was found in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico with his mother. Currently, they are being detained in Mexico. It's unclear exactly which day they'll be returning to the states and are in Mexican custody for the time being.
D magazine, a local Dallas publication, published a profile on Couch's upbringing and his parents' divorce. In the article, titled "The Worst Parents Ever," a social worker involved in his parents' divorce case claimed that Couch had wished his parents "wouldn't put him in the middle." The piece suggested that the ramifications of an ugly divorce — not just "affluenza" — played a role in Couch's behavior as a teenager.
Less than half of children in the U.S. today grow up in a "traditional" family, according to Pew Research Center. Couch's upbringing and his parents' turbulent divorce is not unique in nature and discussing the role of affluence distracts us from the atrocity at hand: sheer recklessness and lack of accountability. Even if external factors were extraordinary in nature, should they even be considered? Perhaps his case should spark discussion on how troubling family circumstances affect children, but his circumstances should never justify the conscious decision to engage in exceptional recklessness.