In a perfect world money would not be a determining factor when it comes to bringing criminals to justice. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Today we’ll take a look at five real cases where the defendants were able to completely evade prosecution or serve incredibly reduced jail sentences based solely on the fact that they came from affluent backgrounds.
On the night of June 15, 2013, 16-year-old Ethan Couch and some friends stole beer from a local Walmart. Hours later, Couch was behind the wheel of his truck when he plowed into a group of good Samaritans assisting a disabled motorist. Four people were killed upon impact and two who were riding in the bed of Couch’s truck were severely injured. One of the passengers thrown from Couch’s vehicle suffered severe brain injuries and can no longer walk or speak. Couch’s BAC registered at 0.24, three times the legal limit.
Having been called “a product of affluenza”, who never suffered any consequences for his actions at the hand of his parents, the judge decided that rather than have Couch serve a 20-year prison sentence, he would instead serve 10 years probation for the deaths and injuries that resulted from his drunk driving accident and was forbidden to have any contact with his parents as he underwent a two-year treatment program.
Just two years later, Couch has been spotted posting videos on Twitter of he and his buddies playing beer pong, a violation of his probation terms. A spokesman for the Tarrant County sheriff’s department told The Dallas Morning News that the video is under investigation. If Couch is found to have violated his probation terms then he could be facing 10 years in prison, though being “a product of affluenza” it is highly unlikely that Couch will ever see a jail cell.
The famed cocaine smuggler who is believed to have been involved in the murder of hundreds of people, including the 1989 bombing of a Colombian airliner that left over 100 people dead, was the world’s most wanted man and the Colombian government had no choice but to bring him to justice. Make no mistake though, most of the government was on Escobar’s payroll and when he went to prison, he went on his own terms. Having poured a good portion of his fortune into the city of Medellin, where the drug baron spent most of his time, Escobar was even gracious enough to have built the prison where he would serve out his sentence.
The surrender was a peaceful one. The US government was looking to extradite Escobar and rival cartels were out for his blood. The prison sentence was only a means of protection for Escobar, where he continued to run the drug trade from inside prison walls, and when he decided he had served enough time, he threw on a disguise and walked out the doors.
Robert H. Richards IV
In 2009, Robert H. Richards IV, heir to the Du Pont fortune, was tried and convicted for the rape of his 3-year-old daughter. A judge sentenced him to eight years in prison for the crime and ordered him to register as a sex offender upon release. The judge, perhaps having a soft spot for child molesters or a soft spot for the money Richards slipped to him, decided that maybe the defendant, “wouldn’t fare well” within the prison system. Instead the judge agreed to allow Richards to serve out his time on probation.
In 1984, Motley Crew’s Vince Neil and the Finnish band Hanoi Rocks’ Razzle left a party to pick up some more liquor. Neil, though he was already heavily intoxicated at the time, took the wheel and proceeded to drive to a nearby store. As Neil turned a bend in the road he lost control of his red sports car and collided directly into a another vehicle. Neil, along with other passengers in the car, sustained serious injuries, but Rocks was declared dead on arrival.
Neil should have spent time in prison, by his own admission, but instead the judge ordered him to serve 30 days in jail. His sentence was later commuted to just 10 days for good behavior and Neil was forced to write a $2.5 million check for vehicular manslaughter.
In the 1960s Johnny Cash’s life can be described as nothing less than a complete train wreck. His amphetamine use was out of control, police were being called on him for antics such as attaching speakers to his roof and blasting Elvis’ Christmas record, and his marriage was in shambles. Then there was that time Cash almost killed off an entire species of animals.
Visiting with his nephew, Damon Fielder, the pair hopped into Johnny’s camper and headed towards the Los Padres National Forest watershed. The forest is home to a number of endangered species, including the California condor. Fielder went to a nearby stream to do some fishing while he left his uncle to his own devices. Fueled by an amphetamine and whiskey cocktail, Cash lit his camper on fire — presumably to keep warm — and caught some of the nearby brush on fire along with it.
The flames quickly surrounded the pair and with Johnny refusing to budge from his spot, his nephew was left with no choice but to attempt to knock him out with a nearby tree branch. Fielder’s plan didn’t work and Cash stumbled over to a creek where he sat until a rescue helicopter was dispatched to retrieve the men.
When the source of the fire was investigated, Cash claimed it was the result of a defective exhaust system which caused the vehicle to spark. 49 of the 53 remaining California condors perished in the fire, to which Cash remarked, “I don’t care about your damn yellow buzzards.”