Earlier this month, Assemblyman Mike Gatto of Los Angeles introduced legislation, AB 1508, which would ban the use of “affluenza” as a defense in a legal trial in the state of California.
By definition, affluenza is the guilt or lack of motivation experienced by people who have made or inherited large amounts of money, which supposedly causes social ineptitude and sense of isolation.
The defense of affluenza has rightfully come into the public spotlight after national outrage emerged from the case of 16-year old Ethan Couch of Texas, who was given ten years of probation and therapy in December following his drunken joyride in his father’s Ford F-350 in June 2013. Couch killed four people and seriously injured a few others on the side of a road. His lawyers basically argued that since Couch was so spoiled in his upbringing, he did not have the concept of what was acceptable and his lack of responsibility was somehow justified.
The most disturbing thing about the case is how this boy avoided jail time because of his ignorance was used as an excuse for breaking the law. Couch killed four people, but because of his high socio-economic standing, not understanding the consequences of his actions was actually used to keep him out of jail as a defense in court.
“I view this legislation as a line in the sand about personal responsibility,” Gatto said in a statement to the Los Angeles Times earlier this month, “but I also view it as a way to ensure that people who come from privileged backgrounds will not get a different type of justice. The Texas case left a lot of people wondering how someone could kill four people and not do any jail time. I think this will change that landscape a little bit by saying this will not be tolerated in California.”
Gatto also added in a press release that criminals should not be able to use their socio-economic background or privileges as a defense to lessen the severity of their trial sentence. People should own up to their own actions and obtain equal justice, regardless of wealth or power.
“Perhaps the notion of personal responsibility seems antiquated to some,” said Assemblyman Gatto in a press release on January 15. “Spoiled children shouldn’t be able to spoil the chances of victims to obtain justice when a criminal act has occurred.”
As a result of the case, five of the families affected by the drunk driving crash have filed civil suits against Ethan Couch, his family and Couch’s father’s business, Cleburne Metal Works.
Frankly, it is quite upsetting that this 16-year old kid will not have to spend time in prison but instead go to a 90-day rehabilitation facility in California outside of Newport Beach that will cost the family $500,000 annually. To many people, this would be considered a vacation instead of a punishment.
There have been very few cases, if any at all, in which a person of poor socio-economic standing has gotten a lesser sentence in court based on their subpar parental guidance and neglect they received growing up.
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