What Do You Think of Affluenza — the Criminal Defense of the Wealthy?

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Affluenza has been used as a criminal defense for the wealthy. Does it make any sense?

What do you think about the affluenza defense — used when a wealthy person has been charged with a crime?

Not familiar with it? It was recently used in the case of a 16-year-old from a rich Texas family who admitted he was drunk when his pickup ran into four pedestrians and killed them. The judge earlier this month sentenced him to 10 years of probation, plus therapy, which his parents will pay for. The treatment facility in California reportedly costs more than $450,000 a year.

Here’s where affluenza comes in, says the Los Angeles Times:

Prosecutors had sought 20 years in prison. But the defense argued that therapy was more appropriate and put a psychologist on the stand who testified about affluenza, a condition, he said, that could afflict someone from a wealthy background from understanding that bad behavior has consequences.

The American Psychiatric Association does not recognize affluenza as a diagnosis, and many psychologists dispute that it exists as a mental health condition. Even psychologist G. Dick Miller, the expert witness for the defense who said the teen was suffering from affluenza, later told reporters that he regretted his choice of words.

I guess this means that only those who aren’t wealthy are responsible for their actions. Plenty of the non-rich have been sentenced to prison for killing people while driving drunk.

The case has prompted plenty of online comment. Wrote lawyer Scott Candoo in a snarky column in The News Tribune of Tacoma, Wash.:

Wow! Probation? Sweet! How does one get affluenza? Is it contagious? Can I buy it somewhere?

Next time I get stopped by a police officer, I’ll just act like Richie Rich, look down my nose at the officer, give him (or her) a condescending attitude, and with a slight English accent tell the officer my parents were rich and trained me to be like this, so “Just bugger off.”

Op-ed contributor James McAuley wrote in The New York Times that few seem outraged where the boy lives:
The disparity between the televised outrage over what was perhaps the cleverest legal argument since the “Twinkie defense” and the relative local indifference to the role of wealth in insulating the guilty from justice illuminates how much of North Texas itself has been constructed for the purpose of insulating wealth from any unpleasant reality. Why should criminal justice be any different?

Another issue is whether other rich kids will think their wealth insulates them from the consequences of their crimes.

Five lawsuits have been filed against the teen, his father and his father’s business as a result of the fatal crash, says the local NBC station.

What are your thoughts on the affluenza defense? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

Karen Datko contributed to this post.

Stacy Johnson

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