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Teen's drunk-driving sentence and "affluenza" spark controversy and skepticism
BEAUMONT - by Lauren Huet
A local spokeswoman for Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) is angry that 16-year old Ethan Couch will not go to jail.
"It sends a message that you can get away with it," said MADD victim services specialist Kathy Bell-Schexnaider.
Tuesday, Judge Jean Boyd ordered Couch to attend therapy at an in-patient facility, and ten years probation. He will not go to jail.
This June, Couch killed four people in Burleson, south of Fort Worth. Hollie Boyles and her daughter Shelby Boyles went to help a friend, Breanna Mitchell, because her SUV had broken down. A youth pastor, Brian Jennings, stopped to help. The four were standing next to the SUV, when Couch slammed into them at a high speed in his truck. He was drunk and had seven friends in the truck with him.
Two people riding in the truck's pick-up were thrown from the vehicle. One of them can no longer move or speak.
Couch's defense argued that he suffers from "affluenza." A psychologist for the family testified that Couch's affluenza stems from his wealthy upbringing. The psychologist said Couch's parents didn't set enough limits, and as a result Couch feels entitled and behaves irresponsibly. This testimony has sparked a debate in the psychologist community. Many say "affluenza" is not a diagnosable mental condition. It's also nowhere to be found in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
"Even the people that coined the term, I'm sure are thinking of it in terms as just a description of behavior, not a genuine mental illness," said Clinical Psychologist Dr. Albert Smith. "There's not some biochemical that's wrong in his body."
Dr. Smith says "affluenza" is a behavior, not a mental illness or condition.
"There are genuine mental illnesses, things like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, but, there's also a bunch of things that are in the [American Psychiatric Association Diagnostic] Manual that just describe problems in behavior and problems in living, and if there were such a diagnosis as affluenza, it would be one of those, not a real mental disorder," said Dr. Smith.
Although Bell-Schexnaider says she's angry about the ruling, she also says it does not surprise her.
"Not at all. Been doing it for 22 years, and quite often when it comes to young offenders they get probation," said Bell-Schexnaider.
Couch's father will spend about half a million dollars per year to send his son to a high-end rehabilitation center in California.