Earlier this week, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram revealed that the rehab stint for Ethan Couch—the subject of the notorious “affluenza” defense that got him ten years probation for killing four people while driving drunk—cost over $200,000. More to the point, the paper revealed that the bulk of those costs were carried by taxpayers, as Couch’s family, who had offered during his sentencing to pay as much as $450,000 a year for inpatient treatment, was found to be “financially unable to pay” for his rehabilitation at the North Texas State Hospital in Vernon.
Couch’s initial sentence made headlines around the world. And more headlines were made this week when we learned who paid for his stint in rehab:
Judge Jean Boyd also ordered Couch to undergo rehabilitation at the North Texas State Hospital in Vernon, where his daily cost was $673, or about $20,000 a month, according to case documents.
Couch’s parents, Fred and Tonya Couch, were found to be “financially unable to pay” for the full cost of their son’s stay, according to the documents. They were ordered to pay a monthly cost of $1,170 from February 2014 through the end of Couch’s stay in Vernon, the documents say.
Couch left the Vernon facility in November 2014. He was then placed in The Next Step Program in Amarillo at a daily cost of $103.08, according to case documents.
Couch’s parents were ordered by the court to pay for the full cost of Couch’s stay in Amarillo through February 2015, totaling about $11,000.
The district attorney’s office declined to comment on Couch’s treatment stints Tuesday because they occurred when he was in the juvenile court system.
Couch’s case has attracted a lot of attention, and for good reason. It’s opened up some dialogue about the role of money and power in our criminal justice system, though the discussion there has largely been about Couch himself, rather than the systemic issues that might be more broadly applicable or instructive. On its face, though, the idea that “this kid was so wealthy that he shouldn’t be held responsible for his actions” is cause for plenty of outrage—at the very least, it’s not a defense available to poor people.
The crash that killed four occurred in 2013, but the now-nineteen-year-old Couch has remained in the news since. Last December, Couch was reportedly seen on camera playing beer pong—an activity that conflicts with the terms of his probation, which requires him to avoid alcohol for ten years. After failing to check in with his probation officer, a warrant was issued for his arrest, and a week before Christmas 2015, Couch and his mother were reported missing. They were found in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, before the end of the month, and Couch was deported back to the U.S. in late January.
Couch’s mother was charged with hindering the apprehension of a felon and released on $75,000 bond. Ethan Couch, meanwhile, was transferred to adult court. Wayne Salvant, the judge who took over his case after Judge Boyd retired, made clear that things are different now when he sentenced Couch to 720 days in jail.
The judge asked Couch a few yes or no questions before telling him what his new probation conditions would be.
“I want you to understand that you’re not going to get out of jail today,” the judge told Couch, whose attorneys did most of the talking during the hearing.
Couch’s sentence is symbolic. The 720 days is four 180-day sentences, one for each of the people who were killed in the accident, according to the judge. It’s also practical—for someone whose case became famous because the consequences were surprisingly low despite the seriousness of their actions, two years in jail is a pretty big switch. Salvant told Couch’s attorneys that it’s “not set in stone,” and he’s open to being persuaded that it’s the wrong sentence—but odds are that the “affluenza” defense is unlikely to work a second time.