DWI Punishment Generates Outrage

The Internet is abuzz with the news that 16-year-old Ethan Couch who was sentenced to a decade on probation after he admitted to driving the car that killed four people while having a BAC of .24.

The teen had the good fortune to be born to a wealthy family, a fact that his attorneys raised during his sentencing hearing when they put on a psychologist who testified that Couch was a product of his wealth, got everything he wanted, and was therefore not entirely responsible for his actions.

Prosecutors had asked the judge to impose an active sentence in this DWI case of 20 years in prison.

Is the sentence lenient? Yes, but in the context of an American criminal justice system that punishes people excessively with outlandish sentences, especially in non-violent drug crimes.

Is this sentence lenient on its own terms? Let’s look at:

First, according to his defense lawyer, Couch could have been freed after two years if he had drawn the 20-year sentence.

Second, the suspended sentence – which I cannot find any in news report – matters. Couch will be on probation for 10 years. A violation of probation, depending on Texas law, can result in additional sanctions being imposed during probation. If the violation is severe enough, then probation presumably can be revoked, and Couch can be ordered to serve the active sentence that was suspended at his sentencing hearing.

In North Carolina, for instance, a probationary sentence can be revoked for one of three reasons – absconding, conviction for a new qualifying crime, or three or more consecutive violations – and the probationer can be sent to prison for up to the full suspended sentence.

Damon Chetson

Damon Chetson is a Board Certified Specialist in State and Federal Criminal Law. He represents people charged with serious and minor offenses in Raleigh, Wake County, and the Eastern District of North Carolina. Call (919) 352-9411.