In a world where everyone is a victim and no one is responsible for anything, it’s not surprising that a teenager who killed four people was acquitted in a court of law because he allegedly suffers from “affluenza” — meaning he was too rich and too privileged to understand what he was doing when his car struck and killed a family of four while he was driving drunk. What’s next? Mickey Mouse Syndrome?
According to USA Today, during the Texas trial of 16-year-old Ethan Couch last month, a “hired gun” psychologist testified that Couch suffered from “affluenza,“ a condition in which rich and privileged children “have a sense of entitlement, are irresponsible and make excuses for poor behavior because parents haven’t set proper boundaries.” A clever defense attorney sold that cockamamie junk-science theory to a gullible judge, who sentenced the teenager to 10 years of supervised probation for killing four people while driving drunk with a blood-alcohol level nearly four times the legal limit for drivers. Prosecutors had sought the maximum 10-year prison sentence.
“The real truth is that our criminal justice system is suffering from ‘affluenza’ because affluent people can afford better attorneys and get better outcomes,” said Drexel University law professor Daniel Filler, who specializes in juvenile law. In other words, young Mr. Couch received the best justice that money could buy. Do you really think he would have received the same sentence if he was poor?
Gary Buffone, a Florida psychologist and family counselor, said affluenza isn’t a recognized diagnosis and shouldn’t be used to justify criminal behavior. Nevertheless, he added, “more attorneys are going to pick it up and wave it as their (defense) banner” because they’re always going to be able to find a psychologist who will diagnose affluenza for the right price.
“I just don’t believe that judges are going to start letting wealthy kids who murder people go off to expensive rehab facilities in lieu of jail time,” countered Los Angeles-based defense attorney Areva Martin. She said the lenient Couch sentence could reinforce bad behavior by rich kids.
Affluenza is only the latest excuse for bad behavior. Doesn’t almost everyone have Attention Deficit Disorder? And while Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a legitimate defense for many people — including servicemen who have served in combat — it is often misused in our courts.
At sentencing last month, the mother of one of the young men convicted of killing former Nevada Insurance Commissioner William McCune offered an ADHD explanation for her son’s criminal actions. “My son isn’t a bad person,” she told District Judge Todd Russell, adding that he suffered from ADHD as a child, but the family couldn’t afford medication.
I’m reading a wonderful book, “The Boys in the Boat,” by Daniel James Brown, which tells the inspiring story of an impoverished young man, Joe Rantz, who was abandoned by his parents at the age of 12, but nevertheless managed to graduate from the University of Washington and row in the legendary crew that won a gold medal at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Joe Rantz was a genuine hero; Ethan Couch is a spoiled rich kid — quite a contrast.
Guy W. Farmer of Carson City is a semi-retired journalist.