The problem with your analogy, Valthazar, is that the exact behaviour that got four people killed is being extended here. Their argument appears to be "Being sheltered from the consequences of his actions has made him incapable of making decisions to the point that people are dying, so let's keep doing that", which seems like rather faulty logic to me. Other people who kill because of impaired reasoning? We remove them from society and treat them, so as to minimize harm. Why is this different from those cases, other than money?
Edit: I accidentally a word.
"Affluenza is a term used by the psychologist testifying for Couch at the disposition phase of the case, to describe children who have a sense of entitlement, are irresponsible, and make excuses for poor behavior because parents have not set proper boundaries.
The resulting public anger is understandable: Intoxication manslaughter is always by nature a senseless crime, and sadly not all that uncommon. So then, what about Couch's case is so much more controversial than other DUI fatalities? The answer has to do with our perception of the juvenile justice system, and our understanding of the adolescent mind. The other reason: our culture's firmly entrenched intolerance for spoiled rich kids.
If you ask most people, they likely think "affluenza" was used by Couch as a defense to the crime—that he sought to avoid all responsibility. But there are two phases of a criminal case, whether in adult court or juvenile court. First is the guilt phase. The main questions asked here are: "did he do it?" or "is he responsible for doing it?" This is the part of trial that we are most familiar with from TV: where a defendant is found guilty or not guilty by jury verdict.
If a child is adjudicated delinquent (the equivalent of "guilty" in adult court), the judge moves on to phase two: disposition. In juvenile court, this means the judge determines how to best treat, rehabilitate or supervise the child.
Some of the dispositions mirror the punitive spirit of the adult system, but a juvenile judge has more options: A child can be ordered to pay restitution, have an imposed curfew, or be sent to a secure educational facility. In lesser cases, I've seen plenty of judges order that apology letters be written, and even given assigned reading of self-help or inspirational books, with a book report due at the next court date. The overall mission of juvenile courts is redemption, not retribution.
In Couch's case, Texas has a relatively tough "determinate sentencing" scheme in which juveniles can be sentenced to adult terms in prison that begin when the child ages out of the juvenile system.
In other words, he could potentially leave juvenile placement when he turns 19, and be transferred to adult prison to serve the remainder of his time. That's what the prosecution sought in this case: adult time for the child that would begin when he turned 19, ostensibly with credit for the time served in the juvenile system (from 16-19 years of age).
So, it's important to understand that Couch did not assert that he was "not guilty" by reason of affluenza. Rather, affluenza was raised in the sentencing phase, as a critical piece of "mitigation."
"Mitigating circumstances" are not a justification or excuse of the offense in question. That part of the case has already concluded with a verdict or judgment. Rather, mitigating evidence may be considered as extenuating or reducing the degree of moral culpability as the court considers a proper sentence.
If we agree that defendants at least have a right to ask for mercy from the court, it follows that they must be able to present reasons for that mercy. Of course, the judge may give this evidence the weight he or she deems appropriate.
Affluenza was never going to exonerate Couch. Affluenza only had the potential to be one of several factors considered in arriving at appropriate punishment or rehabilitation.
Other mitigating factors courts consider are school performance, a lack of prior contacts with law enforcement, and a willingness to take responsibility for one's actions in court. In Couch's case, for example, we know that he admitted (the equivalent of "pleaded guilty") to intoxication manslaughter, which means he took responsibility.
Any juvenile legal practitioner will tell you that if these other factors are in the client's favor, he's a likely candidate for lenient disposition, particularly if there are no prior arrests. Of course, the tragic deaths of four persons also weighs heavily against Couch in this case.
At its core, affluenza was a poorly chosen catchphrase that obfuscated the important underlying point: that, rich or poor, this was another child who, according to an expert qualified by the court, suffered from the same lack of supervision and guidance that plagues millions of American children, irrespective of class. That's all.
Many are offended at this idea because the child comes from a wealthy family. But being so offended reflects a belief that children of wealth can never have any developmental problems, or be neglected in a way that affects their adolescent judgment.
Worse, this view suggests that only the working class or poor are entitled to claim environmental or neurological disadvantages. That is an indefensible position.
It's true that society has always had a jaded view of rich youth and their antics. That's an understandable sentiment—reality TV alone shoves plenty of privileged, unsympathetic characters in our faces every night. "