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Teen avoids jail with 'affluenza' defense
02:58 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

NEW: Ethan Couch gets 10 years' probation for driving drunk, killing 4

NEW: His defense argued he is a victim of "affluenza"

NEW: "We used to call these people spoiled brats," says the psychologist who used the term

Prosecutors had sought a 20-year sentence for Couch, 16

CNN  — 


The word touched a national nerve.

But G. Dick Miller, the psychologist who said it, wishes he could take it back.

“I wish I hadn’t used that term. Everyone seems to have hooked onto it,” he told CNN’s “Anderson Copper 360” on Thursday night.

“We used to call these people spoiled brats.”

Miller recently testified on behalf of 16-year-old Ethan Couch, who this week was sentenced to 10 years’ probation for driving drunk and causing a crash that killed four people.

Miller told the court the teen’s parents should share part of the blame for the crash because they never set limits for the boy and gave him everything he wanted, according to CNN affiliate WFAA.

Couch is himself a victim – of “affluenza” – the psychologist said, suggesting the teen’s life could be turned around with treatment and no contact with his parents.

‘Affluenza’: Is it real?

A judge, at least in part, appears to have agreed.

Couch was given no jail time, though he could face up to 10 years behind bars if he violates the terms of his probation. Prosecutors had asked for the maximum of 20 years.

The judge’s decision stunned victims’ family members, who say they feel Couch basically got away with murder.

“Let’s face it. … There needs to be some justice here,” Eric Boyles, who lost his wife and daughter, told “Anderson Cooper 360.”

On the night of June 15, his wife, Hollie Boyles, and daughter, Shelby, left their home to help Breanna Mitchell, whose SUV had broken down. Brian Jennings, a youth pastor, was driving past and also stopped to help.

All four were killed when the teen’s pickup plowed into the pedestrians on a road in Burleson, south of Fort Worth. Couch’s vehicle also struck a parked car, which then slid into another vehicle headed in the opposite direction.

Two people riding in the bed of the teen’s pickup were tossed in the crash and severely injured. One is no longer able to move or talk because of a brain injury, while the other suffered internal injuries and broken bones.

According to prosecutors, three hours after the crash, tests showed Couch had a blood alcohol content of 0.24, three times the legal limit.

“There are absolutely no consequences for what occurred that day,” said Boyles.

“The primary message has to absolutely be that money and privilege can’t buy justice in this country – that it’s not OK to drink and drive and kill four people … and not have any consequences to that. That’s not the American dream that we grew up to participate in.”

Couch was sentenced by a juvenile judge Tuesday. Judge Jean Boyd told the court she would not release the teen to his parents, but would work to find Couch a long-term treatment facility.

According to WFAA, defense attorneys asked that Couch be sent to a small, private facility in California. They reportedly said the teen’s father would pay the $450,000 price tag.

“There is nothing the judge could have done to lessen the suffering for any of those families,” said defense attorney Scott Brown, CNN affiliate KTVT reported.

“(The judge) fashioned a sentence that is going to keep Ethan under the thumb of the justice system for the next 10 years,” he said.

“And if Ethan doesn’t do what he’s supposed to do, if he has one misstep at all, then this judge, or an adult judge when he’s transferred, can then incarcerate him.”