Recently, the internet has been abuzz over the news stemming from a Texas vehicular homicide case. Ethan Couch (16 years old) was sentenced to 10 years of probation. He entered guilty plea to killing four people due to an automobile accident where he was over the legal limit. In fact, he registered .24 which is twelve times the legal limit under Tennessee law which is .02 for minors.
This was an unusual case because his defense attorney used the fact that he was a child of wealthy parents as a part of his defense during the sentencing hearing. His attorney called a psychologist who testified that Couch was the product of wealthy environment where he go everything he wanted. So therefore, Couch was somehow not entirely responsible for his actions. A novel approach and it appears on the fact of it that it worked in Mr. Couch’s case. However, I will give my opinion below on this issue.
In turn, prosecutors asked to judge for a 20 year prison sentence. In turn, his defense attorney successfully argued for a suspended sentence on probation.
Was Couch’s sentence too lenient? It is hard to determine given the limited facts available over the web. It is very rare in Tennessee vehicular homicides that the Defendant receives a sentence without any jail time. As a general rule, split confinement is usually the best case scenario. In fact, it is not usual for the sentencing Judge to order the defendant to serve his entire sentence in prison. Under split confinement, the defendant will serve a set number of days in jail and then be released on probation. Then, the defendant will strictly be monitored while on probation. However according to Couch’s defense attorney, Couch could have been freed only after serving 2 years if the Judge and granted the 20 year sentence but the parole after 2 years would be subject to a parole hearing.
What the media did not report. Couch is on supervised probation for a period of 10 years. Any violation of the terms of his probation could result in his entire sentence being placed into effect. In other words, one slip up could result in Couch serving 10 years in prison. Under Tennessee law, a probationary sentence can be revoked for a variety of reasons. For example, a new arrest or failed drug test would definitely be great concerns to the presiding Judge.
Here are the unanswered questions? Here is the problem with reading small blurs over the internet and then rushing to judgment in the case. As stated above, I do not know if Mr. Couch’s sentence was in fact too lenient but I do disagree with the “wealthy child” defense. In fact, I suspect the Judge did not give that notion too much thought. However, I bet would be anything thing that Mr. Couch’s attorney and his parents strongly counseled him into attending and completing a vigorous alcohol rehab program. In fact, I bet the Judge coupled this fact along with the relative youth of Mr. Couch into his decision to grant Couch straight probation. In addition, I bet the Judge ordered Mr. Couch to continue with a very structured rehab program along with drug/alcohol testing.
If you need help with a Tennessee DUI or vehicular homicide case, give Lee Martin a call at 615-345-1988.