Video Of "Affluenza Teen" Ethan Couch Walking Free Has Twitter Making Some Eye-Opening Points
On Monday, the man perhaps best known as the "affluenza teen," completed his two-year sentence for killing four people in a 2013 drunk driving accident. Video footage of Ethan Couch being released from prison showed the now-20 year-old silently walking to a black car, flanked by reporters, and saying nothing.
Couch was made famous in 2013 after a psychologist testified that he suffered from "affluenza," an affliction the psychologist claimed was a result of being spoiled by his parents. The side effects, the psychologist said, were that Couch had difficulty telling right from wrong. Though affluenza is not a formally recognized medical condition, Couch's defense team seized upon the argument.
Couch's case prompted wide-spread debate about the nature of class and privilege, and how those two factors play out in the legal system. After news of Couch's release circulated, many on Twitter were quick to compare Couch's sentencing to sentences handed down to non-white defendants for similar or lesser crimes.
In particular, many compared Couch's case to that of Crystal Mason, a 43 year-old Texan who was sentenced last Wednesday to five years in prison for casting a vote in the 2016 presidential election, which she was not legally allowed to do because she was on probation at the time. Her team said she was not aware of the state's voting restrictions, and that she never would have cast a ballot had she known the rules.
The juxtaposition of Mason's sentencing and Couch's release did not sit well with many onlookers. Dozens of users simply tweeted out the facts of each case, expressing outrage that a black woman was given five years in prison for voter fraud, while a white man who confessed to manslaughter only ultimately served two.
Couch was also not immediately sentenced to prison following his conviction. The drunk driving case took place when he was 16 years old. At the time, he pled guilty to manslaughter charges after he drove his truck into four people pulled over on the side of the road in a Fort Worth, Texas suburb. All four people died, and a passenger in his truck reportedly suffered brain damage and paralysis.
Though prosecution sought to have Couch imprisoned for 20 years, a juvenile court judge only sentenced Couch to ten years of probation. Despite receiving what many argued was an extremely lenient sentence, Couch didn't stay out of legal trouble for very long. In December of 2015, Couch appeared to be missing, and was placed on Tarrant County's most wanted list. A manhunt ensued, and Couch and his mother were soon found in Puerto Vallarta, a resort town on Mexico's western coast.
His disappearance coincided with the posting of what appeared to be a video of Couch playing drinking games. The drinking in the video, which was shared to Twitter would have been a direct violation of his probation. However, authorities said at the time that despite the video, leaving the United States and being unreachable by law enforcement were violations on their own.
Couch's case was extradited to the United States, and he was deported from Mexico to face consequences for running away. His mother, Tonya Couch, was also charged with money laundering and hindering the apprehension of a juvenile. She is expected to face trial for the charges in May, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. The money laundering charges are related to an alleged $30,000 withdrawal she made before heading to Mexico with her son.
Tonya has since been out on bail, but was sent to jail at the end of March for reportedly failing a drug test, a violation of her probation. What substance she tested positive for is currently unclear, though she was ordered to steer clear of drugs and alcohol. Tonya's bail was reportedly revoked after the violation, just days before Couch was set to be released from his two-year sentence.
According to The New York Daily News, Couch was sentenced to two years in prison because the judge decided that he should serve 180 days for each person he killed back in 2013. His plans for life out of prison are currently unknown.