Opinion: There’s no shot for this “affluenza”

Last year, 16-year-old Texan Ethan Couch crashed his car while under the influence of alcohol, killing four people and seriously injuring two others.

His punishment, 10 years probation and time in an expensive rehabilitation facility, has outraged the nation.

Couch’s blood alcohol level was three times the legal limit for an adult when he slammed his pickup truck carrying seven passengers, including two on the bed of his truck, into two cars and four people standing on the side of the road.

The defense’s psychologist concluded that Couch, who came from a wealthy family, had “affluenza,” an inability to understand the consequences of his actions because of a privileged upbringing and that he should not be held accountable for the deaths and injuries.

The judge claims that affluenza had nothing to do with his decision to forgo jail time.

This sort of ruling makes the justice system seem unbalanced and in favor of those who have money.

California Assemblyman Mike Gatto introduced bill AB 1508 on Jan.14 that would ban affluenza as a defense in California courts, stating in the bill, “It shall not be a defense in any criminal action or juvenile adjudication that a person did not understand the consequences of his or her actions because he or she was raised in an affluent or overly permissive household.”

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Gatto said “it doesn’t take a crystal ball to see that the relatively lenient sentence that this gentleman in Texas received will lead attorneys to see this is something to use in their overall tool box.”

We are seeing more and more of these irresponsible “poor little rich kids” get away with things others wouldn’t. People of wealth should not be given special treatment in the justice system and California would do well by banning the affluenza excuse in courts.

It’s not just the families of wealthy teens who fail to teach consequences to their children. Plenty of working-class parents are irresponsible, so wouldn’t it be fair if those teens got away with things relatively unscathed, too?

Cynthia Unmack, American River College political science professor said that there appears to be a miscarriage of justice in this case, and that the legal system will have to adapt.

“The law is always changing and always coming up against new challenges that need to be dealt with in a democratic society,” said Unmack.

Couch’s punishment was particularly troubling for people because “even though we say there shouldn’t be a separate justice system for the rich and the poor,” said Unmack, “in practice, it can sometimes look like there is.”

California should continue to push and pass this bill so the sort of ruling seen in the Couch case does not happen in our courts.

Maybe Couch’s parents never taught him there were serious punishments for his actions and now, thanks to the Texas court system, he may never understand.


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