Photo: Chicago Daily News. Defense Attorney Benjamin Bachrach, Nathan Leopold, Jr., Richard Loeb, and Clarence Darrow during the Leopold and Loeb Sentencing Hearing.
In June 2013, Ethan Couch, an inebriated 16-year-old Texan, was speeding and driving illegally on a restricted license when he slammed into a group of people standing on the side of the road. Four died; nine were injured, including two of Couch’s passengers, who were seriously hurt.
The case became a topic of national conversation in America, because, despite the severity of his crime, he got off with a slap on the wrist thanks to a unique defense: “Affluenza.”
A psychologist testified that Couch didn’t understand the consequences of his actions because his parents taught him wealth buys privilege. Somehow, despite killing four people and testing positive for alcohol and drugs, he was sentenced to just rehab and probation. (Couch has again been in the news for fleeing the country; he was found partying in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, with his mother. He’s currently at a juvenile facility in Texas.)
Couch’s featherweight sentence in a way proved his parents correct: Wealth does have its privileges, such as the ability to hire crackerjack lawyers who dream up creative defenses.
Though press accounts didn’t mention it, Couch wasn’t the first high-profile case to use the “Affluenza” defense. That dubious honour goes to two young men accused of committing the “crime of the century” over 90 years ago — Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb.
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