Affluenza: Too Rich to go to Jail?

Recently, a teenager in Texas was arrested for drunk driving and manslaughter; his crimes warranted a lengthy stint in jail, and all the evidence pointed to him being convicted. However, the judge sentenced him to ten years probation because his parents are rich. Imagine a world where there are no consequences for committing a crime. Society would not exist, murderers would run rampant, and the only form of justice would be packs of vigilantes bent on vengeance. While—thankfully—this is not the real world, there are a few select people who think they live in that world without consequences.

Image From: mediabistro.com
Image From: mediabistro.com

Yes indeed, class division is alive in America. The teenager in question, one Ethan Couch, purportedly stole two cases of beer before barreling down a 40 mph road at around 70 mph. He slammed into two cars that had stopped by the side of the road, killing 4 people instantly and seriously wounding another two. When police arrived at the scene, they found that Ethan’s blood alcohol level was three times the legal limit for adult, and they promptly arrested him.

Ethan Couch Photo From: independent.co.uk
Ethan Couch
Photo From: independent.co.uk

The case was made, and it seemed watertight . . . or it was? Maybe not, it was Ethan’s psychologist, G. Dick Miller, who made his now infamous ‘Affluenza’ comment, saying that Ethan Couch was not responsible because he “has a diminished sense of responsibility due to his wealth, pampered childhood, and absentee parenting.” Amazingly, the judge agreed with Mr. Miller, and Ethan is now serving his probation at a $450,000 a year rehab facility, which his parents are paying for.

The ruling has been met with outrage and hostility; newspapers like The New York Times and The Washington Post have called the ruling “evidence of a class system in America,” and online communities have erupted with comments on every conceivable side of the issue. The judge who made the ruling, who has sat on the bench for 26 years, has decided not to run for re-election in light of the unpopularity of her decision. Mr. Miller has recently retracted his comment about ‘affluenza’, saying, “I wish I hadn’t used that term, everyone seems to have hooked onto it”. Ugly facts have come out regarding Ethan’s parents past criminal record; the father and mother have nearly 30 traffic violations between them, all excused or paid off. The victims are pressing for more court cases, and Ethan himself is lounging around at his rehab facility that includes a pool and a horse stable for equestrian desires.

[He] has a diminished sense of responsibility due to his wealth, pampered childhood, and absentee parenting.

Over the years, there have been many exotic defenses to keep people out of prison. One of the more common is the ‘societal pressure’ defense, which holds that the person who committed the crime was a victim of the pressures of society. The ‘affluenza’ case is the exact opposite of this. Ethan was not forced to commit crimes through necessity; no, he apparently committed the crimes because he was so rich, he didn’t know any better.  Whether or not this will set a standard for the American justice system is still unknown, but one cannot help but feel angry and confused at the lack of common sense shown in this case. Thankfully, common sense is not dead yet. There will come a time in the future when America is a classless society, but that time is not now. Until then, we must remain and try to point out injustice wherever it lies.

– Zach Passmore

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