The Student News Site of University of Arizona

The Daily Wildcat

90° Tucson, AZ

The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Affluenza defense is sickening

    Last summer, a 16-year-old boy from Texas killed four people in a car collision. His blood alcohol level was 0.24, three times the legal limit for an adult driver, and he had Valium in his system.

    The event was a tragic example of the stupidity of youth. Ethan Couch shattered lives. But instead of ending up spending the rest of his life behind bars, as one would expect, he was given 10 years probation after two trials, and doesn’t have to spend a day in jail. Why? Couch is stricken with affluenza and is not responsible for his actions.

    Affluenza, if you’re unfamiliar with the term, is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “a psychological malaise supposedly affecting wealthy young people, symptoms of which include a lack of motivation, feelings of guilt, and a sense of isolation.”

    In the context of the case, Couch was not responsible for his actions because his parents are rich. The courts determined he was raised in an environment where wealth solved his problems and he was not responsible for the consequences of his actions.

    Wealth shouldn’t be a get-out-of-jail-free card. Even if the ruling is correct psychologically and affluenza is a mental illness afflicting him, given the case’s extraordinary circumstances, shouldn’t Couch still be sent to prison to answer for his crimes?

    Shortly after the start of the first trial, The Huffington Post ran a piece that showcased five other teens in Texas who were involved in DUI collisions that caused deaths. All of the young men were between the ages of 16 and 19 and were charged, tried and sentenced to a minimum of eight years in prison.

    One person mentioned in the piece, Paulino Cruz, 18, was sentenced to 30 years and made to pay the families of his victims $317,160 for his actions.

    What made these young men different from Couch? All things considered, the cases themselves are pretty much the same. However, the difference in the punishments is so vast, it would almost be funny if it wasn’t so tragic.

    Couch’s income got him off in more ways than one. If not for his family’s wealth, he wouldn’t have been able to hire a talented private practice lawyer who would argue that Couch wasn’t at fault, he was just a product of that wealth.
    T
    his brings into question the case’s rulings and ramifications in the larger legal system. Many have compared this to the infamous Twinkie defense, where Dan White’s Twinkie consumption proved he was suffering from depression, which led to his being found guilty of only voluntary manslaughter after killing San Francisco City Supervisor Harvey Milk.

    The cases may be similar with their controversial, slap-on-the-wrist rulings, but while the White case seemingly came out of nowhere, Couch’s was the culmination of the justice system favoring the wealthy.

    Before Couch, we saw celebrities, socialites and moneyed people use their financial privilege to escape harsh sentences. People like Lindsay Lohan avoided long prison terms for multiple crimes and instead spent time in rehab facilities, on house arrest or in jail for brief stints before being released due to “overcrowding.”

    The Couch case is the latest tragedy in a long line of money-related legal problems. This case goes beyond money buying a defense and creates a precedent: Wealth can now get you out of prison.

    The case of Ethan Couch is a travesty where tragedy caused by stupidity went unpunished. It shows that money can and will solve all problems, and that right and wrong are not the basis of our legal system. We need to recognize that to truly have a fair judicial system, we are supposed to be judged as equals, regardless of wealth.

    —Eric Klump is a journalism senior. Follow him @ericklump

    More to Discover
    Activate Search