Three days later, the country continues to seethe over Tarrant County Judge Jean Boyd's decision to let 16-year-old Ethan Couch off with probation for killing four people and injuring several others near Burleson during a drunken joy ride on Father's Day weekend. It's an absurdly light sentence given the amount of heartbreak he caused. That his defense worked -- his lawyers essentially argued that he was too rich and spoiled to be severely punished for his actions -- suggests something deeply rotten in the criminal justice system.
None of that is the fault of G. Dick Miller, the Bedford psychologist who testified that Couch suffers from "affluenza" and suggested justice would be best served by sending him to Newport Academy, a cushy, $450,000 teen rehab center in California. He was simply doing his job as an expert witness for the defense.
On Thursday night, perhaps in an attempt to defend himself from the recent avalanche of criticism, perhaps to pimp his expert-witness business on national television, Miller defended Couch's sentence, and the system that generated it, during an extended interview on Anderson Cooper 360.
It's immediately clear from the footage that Miller is much less adept at holding his own on a cable news show than at convincing judges to be lenient. He backpedaled on his use of the term "affluenza," suggesting it's not a condition of wealth but also describes people who eat too much or spend beyond their means. He unsuccessfully tried to convince Cooper that Couch's stint in rehab, away from parents and girls and Xboxes, is a serious punishment. And there was his weird refusal to say the word "kill":
COOPER: He killed four people, yes?
MILLER: Four people died.
COOPER: Well, no, four people didn't just magically die. He slammed his vehicle into four people, correct?
MILLER: But you're -- that there was a little bit there, Anderson, that says he -- like did he pick them out like bowling pins and run over them?
COOPER: No, he was too drunk to do that but he slammed his vehicle at high speeds --
Miller's main point, though, is considerably less absurd. His argument is not that Couch should receive special treatment because he's rich enough to be able to afford a good defense team. That's a flaw in the system. Rather, courts should push more juvenile offenders into treatment and continue to shift their focus from punishment to rehabilitation.
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Probably so, but that shouldn't mean eliminating punishment entirely.
Here's the first 10 minutes of Cooper's interview:
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.