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Jul 31st

Affluenza

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We’re not making this up. A teenage drunk driver in Ft. Worth, Texas — who killed four pedestrians and left a friend brain-damaged and paralyzed — got off, as a matter of law, because he came from a wealthy family. Judge Jean Boyd ruled that he suffered from “affluenza,” a “psychosis of extreme wealth,” writes The Week. Affluenza, you see, diminished the killer’s understanding of the consequences of his actions.

Think of that the next time you hear of a judge ignoring a defendant’s pleas for mercy on the grounds that he grew up in poverty and neglect. What’s good for the goose should be good for the gander.

Except, of course, that it should be good for neither. Neither wealth nor poverty is a justification for softening the appropriate punishment for criminals. Extenuating circumstances are one thing; caricatured circumstances, quite another.

The elevation of poverty to an entirely justified, exculpatory rationale not to punish crime is a well worn trope. But focus at this time on the opposite. If anything, it sounds even more unjust than the insult to the poor that, since they’re poor, they must commit crimes.

A psychologist who testified on behalf of Ethan Couch, the 16-year-old drunk driver in Texas, said that Couch “had freedoms that no young man would be able to handle.” Therefore, Couch was exempt from jail time or even community service.

If wealthy Couch is not responsible for the consequences of the freedoms he could not handle, then why was he deemed fit to handle a drivers license? Clearly, if the state deems him mature enough to drive, he is mature enough to face the consequences. The only logical offset to that argument would be to deny children of wealthy families the right to drive until they are substantially older than the rest of the youth population, until they get cured of their illness of  “Affluenza.”

Homicide is homicide. Whatever the appropriate punishment for a teenage killer might be, it is not being enrolled in a rehab facility, featuring equine therapy and cooking classes, with no other consequences.

Paul Callan in CNN.com (again, quoted by The Week), stated the obvious: Couch’s sentence (if you can call it that) sends all the wrong messages about wealth, privilege and justice in America. If the cause of the quadruple homicide is, indeed, “affluenza,” then the appropriate punishment would be a solid dose of state-inflicted poverty in a prison cell where Ethan Couch would learn that his money can’t buy justice.

Shame on Judge Jean Boyd for corrupting justice, eviscerating respect for the justice system and imposing the insult on the wealthy that, since they’re wealthy, they must commit crimes. Truly, this is carrying the culture of victimhood to its aburdest extreme: He killed four people, and he’s the victim.

Copyright © 2014 by the Intermountain Jewish News

 

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