Saturday, December 14, 2013

Affluenza: Since when is being rich a mitigating factor?

A 16 year old Texas boy confessed to intoxicated manslaughter. After stealing two cases of beer with a blood alcohol level three times the legal limit he drove his pickup truck and, while speeding, slammed into four pedestrians who were fixing a flat tire on another vehicle. Two of the teen's passengers where also seriously injured. However at his sentencing he wasn't given the maximum penalty of 20 years in jail . . . in fact he wasn't given any jail time. He was placed on ten years probation and will be sent to rehab in Newport Beach, California. Now what mitigating factors could possibly have been involved to leave this teen and his very blatant disregard for human life with such a lenient sentence?

He is too rich.

Yes, his defense team claimed Affluenza as a mitigating factor to explain why this teen was incapable of controlling his behavior. The life of wealth, privilege, and few limits was apparently seen as a cause for the courts to take pity and not send him to jail but rather protect him. His attorney argued that jail would not give him the therapy he needed to overcome the disadvantage of being rich. Seriously?

I have heard of being poor as a mitigating factor. After all those who are poorer usually  have less parental involvement (both parents may be working or there may only be a single parent). Also those in poorer areas have less opportunities for education. So while ignorance of the law isn't a valid excuse the lack of education can be a mitigating factor. But I don't see how an affluent teen did not know that stealing, underage drinking, and speeding were illegal and dangerous activities. I'm not saying that the rich should be held to a higher standard but perhaps at least the same standard? And if, by the way, his wealth and easy life of few limits and no consequences is what caused this behavior didn't it just get reinforced? I think that means jail and a real consequence might be exactly what justice would demand. If he had been shop lifting or speeding and pulled over or just causing normal teen trouble and a judge ruled that he needed probation and not jail I could be a little more understanding. But this teen acted in a way that caused the death of four innocent people.

So he has an overweening sense of entitlement? That means he shouldn't be held responsible? He was 16. Not 10 or 12. He was old enough to know that drinking and driving was wrong. Unfortunately he was also old enough to know that Mom and Dad will get him out of trouble. And he was right.

This wasn't a case of him cheating on a test or cutting class. He showed a blatant disregard for human life by his actions. And I find it hard to swallow that we are to believe he didn't know what he was doing or that he was incapable of controlling himself. I mean, yes, an upbringing without limits would result in poor impulse control and probably a decrease in frontal lobe activity. But  I believe the decreased frontal lobe argument has already been attempted as a defense and it didn't work.

In my opinion it is insulting to the public and to the justice system that this new defense of Affluenza was even entertained let alone accepted.

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