December 14, 2013

Drunk Teen Shrugs Off a Harsh Sentence Due to Affluenza: the Disease of Being Too Wealthy.

“Judge Says Drunk Teen Is Too Rich to Pay the Price for Killing Four People.”

When I read this on my computer screen this evening as an actual headline, I nearly spit out my tea.

Reading on:

“Citing a disease called “affluenza,” the court found that the kid was too wealthy to understand the difference between good and bad.” (Source.)

Are you kidding me?

From the Dallas Observer:

“There’s no doubt that Ethan Couch, 16, is guilty of drunkenly killing four people in a deadly car crash in Burleson. Last week, the teen pleaded guilty to four counts of intoxication manslaughter stemming from a June 15 wreck in which his Ford pickup, going 70 in a 40-mph zone, veered off the road, killing youth pastor Brian Jennings and three others who were gathered along the side of Burleson-Retta Road to change a flat tire. Couch’s blood alcohol content was .24, three times the legal limit.”

And yet—

“On Tuesday, Tarrant County District Judge Jean Boyd sentenced the teen to 10 years probation, with a mandatory stint in a long-term treatment center, likely to be a $450,000-per-year facility near Newport Beach, California.”

Now, I don’t know a whole lot about the particulars of law and justice, but a few things occurred to me in an instant:

  1. An African-American boy would have probably been charged much more harshly in this situation.
  2. A kid who came from a less affluent background would likely have been charged more harshly, as well.
  3. This kid, Couch, may think he got off easy. But, without a moral compass and a sense of respect for human life, isn’t he already completely imprisoned?

Oliver James, a British psychologist and author of Affluenza: How to Be Successful and Stay Sane says, wealth skews perceptions of right and wrong. “America teaches people that greed is good,” James said. “There are very few parents who don’t imbue their children with some values, but what those values are is another story.”

Regina Austin, a University of Pennsylvania law professor who has written about the roles of race and class in criminal law, said,  “There is a concern that overindulgence of children will not produce the kinds of responsible citizens we want. Couch is not the only defendant to blame income levels for criminal actions,” she said. “But most of the time the defense is used by poor minorities.”

Let me repeat that quote: There is a concern that overindulgence of children will not produce the kinds of responsible citizens we want.

That is the ultimate concern.

What happens when kids like Couch, who are clearly not being parented by anyone, grow into the adults that comprise our communities? What happens when they become parents?

In conclusion, I am primed for nightmares tonight. I will definitely need to surf some videos of cute bulldog puppies to set me straight before going to bed.

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Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Tim Evanson / Flickr

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