Affluenza Plagues The Justice System
NEW YORK ( MainStreet) Earlier this month, a Texas court sentenced 16-year-old Ethan Couch to 10 years' probation for hitting and killing four people with his car. Couch had a blood alcohol level of .24 at the time of the accident, three times the legal limit. The teenager faced a maximum of 20 years in prison but received no actual jail time from Judge Jean Boyd due to a condition the defense called "affluenza."
According to the defense, Couch needs treatment for his problem rather than imprisonment. Boyd ultimately agreed, sentencing him to probation in a controversial decision.
Justice works differently for the rich. Anyone really curious needs only to look at the consequences of carrying a bag of weed for poor, black kids vs. Hollywood movie stars.
One goes to prison, the other goes to a party.
The problem is Boyd's decision probably wasn't about Couch's money. In fact it almost certainly wasn't, if only for the fact that any judge who wanted to let the rich kid walk would have made up at least some excuse to paper over the fact. She wouldn't have openly accepted "affluenza" as an excuse and put her seal on it.
In reality, Boyd is probably a judge who was more moved by the kid in her courtroom than the cash. Faced with a teenage defendant, it looks like Boyd wanted to find a way to give him a second chance regardless of his parents' money.
That may have been what Boyd meant, but what she said only makes sense if it was all about the money. Cut through all the flim flam about bad parents and a permissive childhood, because if parental mistakes forgive felonies, we might as well shut down the court system right now. In a court of law, affluenza only works if it diagnoses wealth.
And it draws ugly parallels to what happens to the poor and minority defendants who sit in that same courtroom .
When we give Judge Boyd the benefit of the doubt, her ruling falls apart. Boyd found that Couch had grown up devoid of consequences. His parents hadn't enforced any rules, so he never learned to respect them and couldn't function in proper society. Psychiatrists cited examples in court, including when Couch got a ticket for being found passed out in a pickup truck with a naked girl. His parents did nothing.
The problem is, none of this has anything to do with wealth or Couch's circumstances individually. Sure, his parents could afford the truck, but teenagers don't need money to make drunken mistakes in a parking lot. It doesn't take money to raise a child in a consequence free environment, just permissive parents. Couch's defense could work for anyone who can claim that their parents phoned it in.