Defense attorneys who were able to spare Texas teenager Ethan Couch from a prison sentence for the deadly drunken-driving crash he allegedly caused were not the first advocates to rely on a client’s privileged background, Professor Dan Filler said in The New York Times on Dec. 29.
“I am sure that people have made the argument that a child is less culpable because his or her parents didn’t set limits.,” Filler said. “It’s just never been framed as the fake diagnosis of affluenza.”
Filler noted that defense attorneys will very typically seek “an explanation for the wrongdoing that will resonate with a judge.”
Couch received a sentence of probation and rehabilitation following the 2013 incident, in which four pedestrians were killed and one of his passengers was paralyzed.
The teen and his mother were arrested in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico on Dec. 29 after allegedly fleeing in advance of a court hearing that could have sent him to prison if he was found to have violated the terms of his probation.
In The Christian Science Monitor, Filler contrasted the criminal justice system’s treatment of Couch with that of Cleveland 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was shot by police after playing with a pellet gun in a park. A grand jury declined to bring charges against the two officers involved in the Rice shooting.
“You can’t help but be struck by the juxtaposition of the Tamir Rice grand jury decision and (the Couch case),” Filler said in the Dec. 29 article.
Filler is an authority on criminal law who serves on Pennsylvania's Advisory Committee on Capital Punishment.