Saturday, December 14, 2013

"Affluenza" - Texas District Judge Jean Boyd's Blind Justice

Texas District Judge Jean Boyd
By now a healthy percentage of the world's population are collectively scratching their heads and trying to figure out exactly what planet Texas judge Jean Boyd (pictured left) is living on.

She presides over the 323rd Family District court that serves Tarrant County, Texas.

While I can't judge her entire legal career based on one case, her recent decision is a testament to the massive inequities inherent in the US justice system.

But her legal rationale and competence to serve on the Texas bar must be questioned in the wake of her issuing one of the most absurd sentences in recent memory after being duped into buying the shaky "affluenza" defense theory cooked up by sixteen year-old Ethan Couch's high-priced defense team.

This story has exploded across the media landscape but let's just quickly review the facts.

Back in June, Couch and his friends stole beer from a Walmart just outside the Dallas/Ft. Worth area and headed off to a party.

With three times the legal alcohol content for an adult over 21 and Valium in his system, Couch gets into his pickup with friends. 400 yards down the road, doing 70 mph in a 40 mph zone he hits four people; Breanna Mitchell, Holly and Shelby Boyles (a mother and daughter who'd stopped to help Mitchell fix a flat) and youth pastor Brian Jennings who'd also stopped to help.

Aside from the four people killed, Couch's fifteen year-old friend Sergio Molina was ejected from the truck and paralyzed (he can now only communicate with his eyes) and fifteen year-old Solimon Mohman suffered internal injuries and multiple bone fractures.

But judge Boyd decides Couch's mother and father's immense wealth, lack of discipline and bad parenting rendered the teen incapable of knowing that stealing beer from a store and getting into his pickup drunk were wrong - so he couldn't be held responsible. Or "affluenza" as a defense expert called it.

So for theft, DUI, four counts of vehicular manslaughter and speeding judge Boyd gives Couch 10 years probation and rather than jail, sentences him to a cushy alcohol rehab facility that looks like a cross between a ski chalet in Vail and a Fantasy Island getaway.

In a state notorious for harsh sentencing and a "get tough on crime" approach that includes boot camps for some juvenile offenders, judge Jean Boyd's decision certainly offers us insight into why Department of Justice statistics show black American males are incarcerated at a rate six times higher than that of white males.

It's also a stark example of how the US justice system works differently for people with wealth than it does for those without.

The sad but unspoken truth of this case is that had Ethan Couch been a poor sixteen year-old Hispanic or African-American male, bad parenting or a dysfunctional upbringing wouldn't even have been considered as an excuse by a judge; they would have just locked him away.

In this case it was the money, not justice, that was served. Affluenza indeed.

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