Advocacy at Work: How MADD Helped Put the 'Affluenza' Teen Behind Bars
On Wednesday, Ethan Couch, 19, was sentenced to 720 days in jail, The Associated Press reported.
If the name sounds familiar, it should. In December 2013, Couch received 10 years probation on four counts of intoxication manslaughter after his lawyers argued he suffered from "affluenza" and needed rehabilitation, rather than jail time. Prosecutors had sought 20 years in prison, according to The New York Times.
The decision angered victims' families and the public, leading to intense media scrutiny and questions over whether a less-privileged teen would have received a similarly lenient sentence. Eventually, the controversy subsided almost entirely.
But two years later, Couch was back in the headlines. In December 2015, a video surfaced appearing to show him surrounded by alcohol at a party, a clear violation of his probation terms. Couch disappeared, fleeing to Mexico with his mother. When the pair was arrested, Couch, then 18, was placed in juvenile detention to await sentencing.
That's when Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) stepped in.
On Jan. 11, the organization launched its #FightAffluenza advocacy campaign. It started a petition to get Couch's trial moved from juvenile court to adult court, where Couch would be subject to harsher sentencing. "Couch is no child," the petition read. "His actions are not that of a child."
Within 24 hours, the petition had 30,000 signatures. It would eventually reach 50,000. Three months later, Couch, tried as an adult, received nearly two years in prison, in large part due to MADD's advocacy efforts.
"When it comes to these types of high-profile, mission-related current events, people want you to do something, not just say something," said Dorene Ocamb, senior director of marketing and communications for MADD, who masterminded the campaign.
MADD's success story is the subject of our upcoming webinar, "Amp Up Your Advocacy This Election Season," in which Ocamb will explain the strategy, tactics and results behind the #FightAffluenza campaign, and what it takes for powerful, effective advocacy efforts. The free, one-hour webinar will also explore:
- How donors want organizations to respond to politically charged moments and on-mission events in the news.
- The results of new research from Blackbaud that shows what the election year means for giving to your organization.
- Why high-profile campaign years are ideal target times for acquiring young donors.
- And more.
Join us April 27 at 2 p.m. ET for the webinar. Click here to register. (It's free!)