"Affluenza" synonymous with immorality

MeganJanetsky8-27We’re all familiar with the June 2013 “affluenza teen” case. Teenager Ethan Couch got off with a 10-year probation period after driving drunk, killing four people and severely injuring two others. The reason? Couch got off by claiming he was too rich and coddled to know right from wrong.

The teen’s father, Frederick Couch, was recently arrested for impersonating an officer. While some may say the charge is simply a fluke, the family appears to have a series of crimes coating its past, including more than 20 different traffic and criminal charges with no time served in prison. Charged with evading arrest, theft, and the assault of Tonya Couch, Frederick’s ex-wife, the family hasn’t exactly lived the most innocent life. And yet, no one in this millionaire family has ever been behind bars.

Looking at these charges, it becomes clear that the entire family, not just the little angel of a son, is suffering from the vice of "affluenza." The issue here is not "affluenza;" it’s the justice system repeatedly ignoring crime after crime from this family and the family feeling entitled enough to continue its streak.

The entire principle of “affluenza” is almost sickening. It’s equating being rich and privileged with a mental illness, when really it should be equating this sense of entitlement with immorality.

If we continue to treat “affluenza” as a legitimate legal defense, then it will become one. If a powerful person can get off by essentially claiming that he's rich and didn’t know better, then the justice system is clearly failing. The defense attorney for the teen’s case, Reagan Wynn, J.D., later mocked the critics of the younger Couch's probations. "It was ridiculous to think that we walked into court and said, 'Oh, this is a rich white kid,' and she (Judge Jean Boyd) decided to probate him,” Wynn said. Well, sorry, Mr. Wynn, but that's basically what happened.

The U.S. embodies 5 percent of the world population, but currently has about 25 percent of the world’s prisoners, most on petty drug charges. If that isn’t enough, the U.S. has almost 2.4 million people incarcerated, currently costing taxpayers a staggering 46.3 billion dollars a year.

Perhaps we should focus less on drug possession and more on obvious cases of manslaughter like Couch's. While the drug wars are a key issue today, especially in Arizona, the incarceration rate for minor drug offenses has been taken to new extremes.

For instance, in 2012, 1.55 million people were arrested for non-violent drug charges. And even more bewildering than that, simple cases of drug possession in Kentucky can result in two to ten years of prison time and a potential $20,000 fine. And that’s only for first offenses. That’s right: a teenager who killed four people and paralyzed another so badly that his only method of communication is through blinking can serve 10 years less time than someone caught with drugs.

If the Couch family is let off with no prison time, just like it has been time and time again, it will prove that affluenza as a whole was not created by the “afflicted” person’s wealth, but by the justice system’s unyielding ability to focus their efforts on the wrong people.


Reach the columnist at mjanetsk@asu.edu or follow her on Twitter @meganjanetsky

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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