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All the Justice Money Can Buy


Jan 4 2016
From the ‘affluenza’ teen to Steven Avery, there’s a reason we care so much about a fair trial.

Shauna Jennings will never forget June 16, 2013. It was supposed to be a happy celebration, the day of her son’s graduation party. But when they came upon an accident on their way, her husband—a pastor and a good man to the core—stopped to help a stranded driver and got struck by a speeding truck. He died at the scene, the sudden, tragic end to their 20-year marriage. Jennings was not alone in her grief; in all, four pedestrians were killed, and two others severely injured.

The person responsible—though “irresponsible” seems to be a more apt term in the case—is a name we know from headlines: Ethan Couch. At 16, he drove his daddy’s pickup at 70 miles per hour, his blood alcohol at three times the legal limit thanks to two cases of beer shoplifted from a local Wal Mart. He also tested positive for Valium.

From time to time, we read about such accidents in the news and lament how one person’s bad decisions and foolish actions gravely impact families and communities. The small solace for their victims is the hope for justice. But in this case, Ethan Couch’s defense uses the term the teen is now notoriously known for: affluenza.

Couch is supposedly the victim of his family’s own wealth—bailed out too many times, poorly parented, and unable to be held responsible for his actions. He expressed no remorse. The affluenza defense saved him from prison, and the Texas teen was sentenced to a decade of probation, a stint in rehab, and no drugs or alcohol.

Last month, 18-year-old Couch was accused of violating his probation by a Twitter user who posts a video of him playing beer pong. Officials issued a warrant for his arrest when he failed to show for a scheduled parole appointment. Couch and his mother, Tonya, threw a final party in the states then headed to Mexico. On December 28, the two are located in Puerto Vallarta, after ordering a Domino’s pizza. Currently, Tonya has been extradited to the US, but Ethan—with his blond hair and scraggly beard dyed black—remains in Mexico, awaiting a judge’s decision.

I thought back to Ethan Couch’s scenario, and the relatively mild penalty he faces, as my husband and I binge-watched the Netflix series Making a Murderer. This documentary follows a Wisconsin man who was exonerated from rape after spending 18 years in prison, only to end up convicted of murder within years after getting out. Steven Avery’s case contains enough unanswered questions to make viewers uneasy and to question whether justice has indeed been served. We want to live in the land of the fair trial, where no matter your race, sex, or socio-economic status—whether you’re a Wisconsin scrap yard worker or a rich kid from Fort Worth—you can be assured of the same constitutional rights.

Related Topics:Crime; Law Enforcement
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