Wednesday, December 30, 2015

How American Judges Can Be Made To Feel The Heat Over Controversial Verdicts

Posted by Peter Quennell

Why American judges can envy Italian judges part deux.

As we surely all know now, most Italian judges advance along a career path. Only a few are politically appointed and none are elected.  All of the time their rulings are under minute scrutiny and (as we have seen with Judges Hellmann, Marasca and Bruno) the powerful Council of Magistrates can stop their advancement in a heartbeat if any of those rulings look suspect.

American judges are mostly elected with little training requirements or qualifications testing. If they seem to have stepped out of line some of them can face political hearings and discipline boards (as Judge Heavey did) but not all do.

But the worse reaction many fear more is the media and the public turning upon them, made vastly more possible because of the Internet and happening time and time again these days. 

The American judge now much in the news - and not in a good way - is Jean Boyd of Texas.

In March 2012 Jean Boyd, then a Juvenile Court judge, sentenced a 14-year-old black boy to 10 years for killing a smaller boy with one powerful punch.  She was criticised for being way too harsh then.

In December 2013 she veered sharply in the other direction.

She sentenced a now notorious teenager to mere probation and rehabilitation after he had killed four people and maimed a fifth for life when drunk-driving. The psychological defense she bought into was that his family was so rich that he grew up without the right parenting.

This was apparently a unique defense and one that has never been attempted for poorer people. Judge Boyd was widely criticised for being way too light then.

The two cases dropped out of the news for a while.

But now the notorious white teenager Ethan Couch is all over the news again. A few weeks ago he was caught on video drinking - which could lead to his serving time in prison - and a couple of weeks ago he disappeared along with his mother.

Considering that he has not yet even been charged with a transgression of his probation, the size and cost of the manhunt was extraordinary. Somehow the US Federal Marshall Service pinpointed his phone in a Mexican apartment, and the Mexican police arrested him along with his mother and locked them up.

Today he is being held in an Mexican prison with his mother. It is just reported that they are fighting extradition.

Good luck with that one.

Judge Boyd actually retired a year ago in face of a petition demanding she be fired. She was given some credit by the local newspaper.

But her verdict never convinced an angry public or the families of the four dead and one maimed victims, and both he and his irresponsible mother also now seem headed for prison.

And it seems Ms Boyd is not returning phone calls.

Below: Tonya Couch and Ethan Couch at the trial in 2013

Posted by Peter Quennell on 12/30/15 at 10:02 PM in Justice systemsUS etc systemsThe wider contextsN America context


Associated Press has just reported that the mother Tonya Couch has already been sent back to the US.

Meanwhile the boy is still in his cell in Mexico because of the judge’s injunction - which only lasts for 3 days total, during which his Mexican lawyers have to put up or shut up.

Tonya Couch, the mother of fugitive teen Ethan Couch, has been deported to the United States, according to an Associated Press report citing a Mexican official.

According to the AP, the National Immigration Institute official said Tonya Couch left late Wednesday afternoon on a flight from Guadalajara, Mexico, to Los Angeles. The person was not authorized to discuss the case and revealed the information on condition of anonymity.

The official says she was sent home because immigration authorities did not receive a judge’s injunction like the one that temporarily blocked the deportation of her son. He remains in custody in Mexico.

Posted by Peter Quennell on 12/31/15 at 03:58 AM | #

Another Associated Press report, saying that Ethan Couch is being moved to “larger immigration facilities” in Mexico City.

The killing of four and maiming of one for life has never seemed to bother him at all. It seems to me both he and his mother are “mental” so we may be in familiar territory here.

Posted by Peter Quennell on 12/31/15 at 04:07 AM | #

Psychopath territory?

I can’t imagine even running over a dog and not being emotionally devastated. This boy profoundly offended me when he refused to answer rescue workers’ questions at the scene of the accident.

The fact that he had never been held responsible for his wrong doing in the past is all the more reason the judge should have given him no breaks. It was entirely predictable that he’d be in the legal mess he’s in now.

More generally, I think that this story shows how society has become biased in favor of defendants while ignoring victims and their families. This approach benefits literally nobody. It only puts society at more risk.

Posted by JohnQ on 12/31/15 at 04:53 AM | #


The Italian marines’ case appears to be coming to resolution. Hope everyone will be happy.

Perhaps you can add some new information from your side too..

Posted by chami on 12/31/15 at 07:13 AM | #

@ JohnQ on 12/30/15, 11:53 PM:

” I think that this story shows how society has become biased in favor of defendants while ignoring victims and their families. This approach benefits literally nobody. It only puts society at more risk”

So True.

Individual’s Rights can be purchased to Supersede Society’s Rights.

At least Couch was caught by their cellphone location, just as Knox was proven Not to be at Sollecito’s by her cellphone location.

Posted by Cardiol MD on 12/31/15 at 10:57 AM | #

@Cardiol MD

Individual’s Rights can be purchased to Supersede Society’s Rights…

I do not understand what you mean but for me justice is the fundamental religion of the society. If people are dissatisfied with the delivery of justice, they will, sooner or later, take it up unto themselves. The results are not going to be pretty.

I forget where I read that, but the success of the Taliban depended on delivery of instant justice. Without a bribe. And people are crying out for justice. And there is a parallel with the Mafia.

A society that cannot deliver justice promptly is impotent. And we can take only so much…

Posted by chami on 12/31/15 at 11:59 AM | #

Hi Chami and Cardiol.

I think Cardiol above was just pointing out the obvious, disapprovingly, about the golden rule in US justice: “He who has the gold makes the rules”. Here is how the New York Times makes the same point:

Sure thing on the supertanker case. I’ll look around. What an interesting deal. Another excellent report in an Indian newspaper, they beat those of most countries. You’ve been to Kerala right? Such a beautiful place, such strange politics.

Posted by Peter Quennell on 12/31/15 at 01:01 PM | #

1) Shades of Knox-Mellas? Here’s an article describing the family psychology and the dynamics that night.

As Ethan approached his 18th birthday, his parents said, he was filled with shame and regret.

2) Here’s an article listing the law-breaking record of the Couch family which the judge might have taken into account. 

3) And here’s the Harvard University newspaper mocking G. Dick Miller, the psychologist who hornswoggled the judge.

As in Meredith’s case, it looks like justice may be in the process of being meted out by other means.

Posted by Peter Quennell on 12/31/15 at 01:14 PM | #

Here is Tonya Couch arriving back late last night at Los Angeles airport, from where the Federal Marshalls will take her back to Texas (Last time we posted a perp-walk it was of Ann Bremner in the wee hours).

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Posted by Peter Quennell on 12/31/15 at 01:44 PM | #

Thanks Pete.

@ chami:

How about:  Knox and her dysfunctional family, purchased a set of Individual “Rights”, superseding not only those of Meredith, and her most honorable family, but also those of our whole society (analogous to the Crouch’s purchase)?

We all agree that Justice is not what has happened - yet.

Posted by Cardiol MD on 12/31/15 at 01:56 PM | #

Hi Cardiol:

On justice prospects here. See below? It will be interesting to see what the Mexican courts will make of it. With the US Feds involved Couch’s chances dont seem good. 

Prosecutors want to see Couch in an adult court, but because the alleged violation happened in the juvenile system, Couch effectively would start with a clean slate in the adult probation system. As a result, the adult court judge could not punish Couch for violations he committed as a juvenile.

The maximum he could get would be 120 days. But if he is treated as a juvenile, the sentence would be lighter, Wilson said.

Anderson said he supports the district attorney’s request to transfer Couch’s sentence from the juvenile system to the adult court system. Even if the time behind bars is short, the requirements for probation as an adult are much more strict than for juveniles, he added.

Though he’s an adult now, Couch was 16 when he was sentenced for the original crime. If he is punished for a violation in the juvenile probation system, that would have him in jail until his 19th birthday on April 11, 2016, about 102 days.

But moving Couch to the adult system holds a potential advantage for prosecutors. If he ends up on adult probation and violates that, he could land in jail for up to 40 years, Wilson said.

He also could get more time on top of that, if he is convicted of new crimes as an adult.

Posted by Peter Quennell on 12/31/15 at 03:03 PM | #

More news, of a sort. Nobody seems quite sure why Mexico put Tonya Couch on a flight to LA but anyway there she is, locked up.

They are going to send her on to Texas but apparently the movement of prisoners is never announced in advance (well except at LA airport where she was walked right through the terminal).

The warrant for her arrest in Forth Worth will allow her out on bail for $1 million. What could possibly go wrong?!

In the news report below the lawyer blames the DA for not originally charging Ethan Crouch as an adult in 2013. He points out that the delay in Mexico is not a smart idea because Ethan Couch could be old enough on return to go straight to adult court.

<iframe width=“560” height=“315” src=“” frameborder=“0” allowfullscreen></iframe>

Posted by Peter Quennell on 12/31/15 at 07:26 PM | #

I’d like to link to this one again because it shows that in fact there HAVE been consequences and as in Meredith’s case they are still playing out.

There are some similarities between Curt Knox & Edda Mellas and the parents here.

Posted by Peter Quennell on 01/01/16 at 04:10 AM | #

News is still evolving on this classic case of bad parenting - pity we cant call it unlicensed but kids are free to be born right into the heart of hurricanes.

1) Tonya Couch is not fighting extradition from California to Texas so she could be on her way there. She may travel in one of the flying paddy-wagons used to transport most US prisoners.

2) A large-caliber handgun was found in a hotel room they had to vacate, and returned to them. This could make it harder for Eathan Couch to resist extradition - which the mother may cave on rather than be separated.

3) They had a dog and a lot of cash with them.

4) Tonya Couch sold 1719 Burleson Retta Road Burleson (talked about a lot in the article linked to just above) in August. Its value is put at only about $465,000 which given the huge size is surprising. You can see pictures of it on Google Images and it sorta shows on Google Earth Street View.

5) The father continues to sound the real monster here. He beat the mother a lot and seems to have micro-managed the boy and was the one threatening and bullying and buying his way out of trouble.

6) All three of them have limited education; none went from highschool to college. The boy seems to have wanted it but his father refused to let him go there.

7) The article linked just above suggests the boy is pretty traumatised. I for one thought he was a psycho, just shrugging off all the deaths he caused, but he seems close to meltdown.

8) The entire circle of family and friends and victims including those riding with the boy that night sound like in need of a lot of therapy. A real night of horrors. The girl in the truck especially because they were only on the road for an item she suddenly needed.

9) All but one of the victims’ families accepted a payoff so their outrage is somewhat muted. The payoffs seem to have been in the $1-$2 million range.

10) After paying out $90,000 for the boys therapy the father yanked him and suggested it was for financial reasons.

Justice sometimes has strange ways of asserting itself.

Posted by Peter Quennell on 01/01/16 at 07:10 PM | #

Paul Krugman has an article today about how real wealth can twist psychology and how it is gradually diminishing the prospects of all of us.

Kudos to Bill Gates and Warren Buffet and Mark Zuckerberg (and actor Jackie Chan) to decide not to pass on 99% of their fortune to their children.

Second-generation billionaires are not only mostly nasty people, they invest terribly and are one of the 2-3 main causes of economic growth slowing.

Posted by Peter Quennell on 01/01/16 at 07:24 PM | #

“Making a Murderer” on Netflix (see The NYTimes) adopts the Knox mis-, dis-information, Obfuscation, Reasons-to-Doubt Flood, to evade Justice:

“Since Netflix released the documentary “Making a Murderer” in mid-December, its imprisoned central character has received a wave of support, including more than 275,000 signatures on a petition asking President Obama to pardon him.

The 10-part series, by the filmmakers Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos, depicts a true-crime saga that seethes with troubling questions over whether Steven Avery, a Wisconsin man convicted of the 2005 murder of a young woman, was framed by law enforcement officials.

But the prosecutor in the case, Ken Kratz, said viewers convinced of Mr. Avery’s innocence did not get to see important evidence that led a jury to convict him.

The series “really presents misinformation,” Mr. Kratz said in an interview on Monday.

He portrayed the program as a tool of Mr. Avery’s defense and accused the filmmakers of intentionally withholding facts that would lead viewers to see his guilt.

Much less than a dispassionate portrayal of the case, the film is a result of the filmmakers’ “agenda” to portray Mr. Avery as innocent and stoke public outrage, Mr. Kratz said. “That is absolutely what they wanted to happen,” he added….”

Posted by Cardiol MD on 01/06/16 at 03:56 PM | #

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