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Learning From The “Affluenza” Case

In an effort to channel Bill Maher, here’s a new rule; if we are going to invent a psychological illness for rich people, the symptoms of which akin to being a spoiled snot-nosed brat, poor people should have one too. We can call it “poor pox” or “WIC-lash” or “food stamp schizophrenia.” Something to level the playing field so that even poor people can get away with manslaughter.

I reference, of course, 16-year old Ethan Couch, a wealthy kid from North Texas who was recently sentenced to only 10 years’ probation after pleading guilty to stealing liquor from Walmart, driving with a blood alcohol level three times the legal limit, and killing four people alongside severely injuring two others. He will be serving that time at Newport Academy, a high-end rehab facility located in Southern California. There he will be undergoing the usual treatment for rehab patients like AA meetings and drug testing, as well as experimental equine assisted therapy to help lead to “amazing healing and personal growth.”

The only reason he will not be serving jail time – which would have been 20 years, as sought by prosecutors – is because Couch apparently suffers from a psychological condition known as “affluenza.” G. Dick Miller, a psychologist who was called to testify by Couch’s attorneys, stated that the boy was taught that wealth bought privilege and was unable to link consequences to bad behavior, to which State District Judge Jean Boyd agreed.

And this is not his first run-in with the law. WFAA, an ABC-affiliate in Dallas, found that Couch had two alcohol citations just months prior to the June 15 incident. On February 19, according to the report, police cited Couch for being a minor in possession of alcohol and for consumption of alcohol as a minor. He pleaded no contest and was given probation, the terms of which being that he had to take an alcohol awareness class and complete 12 hours of community service.

Such a precedent should have been enough to give Couch some jail time. He is not some mentally afflicted teen without a conscience. Experts agree that affluenza is not even a recognized diagnosis for bad behavior. He’s a stupid kid doing what stupid kids do; drinking and making idiotic decisions. Only his stupid decisions claimed the lives of four people and injured two others, one of them suffering severe brain damage. He just so happened to be from a wealthy family and was therefore given what is essentially a vacation with sporadic AA meetings.

And for those who may think I am seeing this in black and white, let’s wind the clock back to last year. A 14-year old black child was sent to prison for 10 years by the same judge, in the same county when he accidentally killed a person after a single punch caused the victim to hit his head on a concrete sidewalk. The boy pleaded guilty to the crime, but there was no mention of “WIC-lash” to give him probation or send him to a fancy rehab. In fact, no rehab facility wanted him because of the “violent nature of his crime,” even though Couch’s incident is more violent in comparison. His only rehab will be a juvenile detention center, where he will stay until age 19, at which point he will be paroled into the community or be sent to an adult prison in the event he “hasn’t worked in the program.”

This is yet another tale of the two Americas, with one tier having to struggle with poverty, constant legal scrutiny, and the manufactured stigma of being thuggish “takers;” and the other living a life so luxurious that it can literally get away with manslaughter. Couch is not a disturbed alcoholic. He’s a public safety hazard and a delinquent who has been coddled his entire life by his parents, and now the justice system. Ironically, the absurd defense that his lack of a moral compass is due to a life without consequences became the thing that saved him from proper punishment.

UPDATE: Currently, there is a renewed push by prosecutors to put Couch behind bars for at least three years on an intoxicated assault charge. The families of the victims are also pursuing multi-million dollar civil suits.

About Cristóbal Reyes

Cristóbal Reyes is a first-generation Chilean-American, a progressive political activist, and an aspiring political journalist. He studies Journalism and Political Science at the University of Central Florida and enjoys debating public policy and social issues.


3 thoughts on “Learning From The “Affluenza” Case

  1. Well, one good thing about all this- is that the people sewing his parents,will succeed in their suits-as they should be found responsible as they are the ones who taught their son-his afluenza

    Posted by 503me | December 27, 2013, 12:57 pm
  2. I hope the families of the people this little budding psychopath killed sue his parents into bankruptcy. Then maybe they won’t be able to bail him out next time.

    Posted by janipurr | December 27, 2013, 3:23 pm
  3. “This is yet another tale of the two Americas,” You ain’t kiddin’! Good post on something that is, unfortunately, not new in this country. Just another example of how those with money & power can & do get away with murder while the rest of us are treated as expendable peasants. Democracy? Sounds like Feudalism to me.

    Posted by mariagstudios | December 30, 2013, 6:35 am

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