Editorial: Real crimes don’t need fake excuses


It’s a common occurrence out in public to see a toddler throwing a bloody-murder tantrum while his mother idly stands by and allows her child to thrust himself around the room in rage.

It’s annoying, rude and downright intolerable, but the kid didn’t know any better, right? Perhaps he was raised in a home that doesn’t teach respect or awareness of others, so the child should have no part in the punishment, no matter how obnoxious or heinous his behavior.

This is also the case for Ethan Couch, the 16-year-old North Texan who avoided serious punishment for killing four people while driving intoxicated last June.

The reason? His attorneys argued Couch was too rich to know he did anything wrong, as his psychologist determined.
A term was given to him despite the outrage of his North Texas town: “affluenza,” which is defined as an ailment affecting wealthy younger people, giving them very little sense of motivation or guilt.

Coined in Jessie O’Neil’s 1990s book, “The Golden Ghetto: The Psychology of Affluence,” it metaphorically diagnoses children who grow up in rich homes and gives them the easy way out of punishment simply because they were raised to be spoiled brats that never learned true responsibility.

Essentially, the court ruled in the likes of this: It’s not your fault life fed you with a silver spoon.

Despite Couch’s confession to his crime, the courts gave him 10 years probation for his intoxication manslaughter and intoxication assault charges. On top of this, Couch’s parents forked over $450,000 for him to attend a swanky Newport Beach rehab facility following the ruling. As of this month, the families of the victims have filed six civil lawsuits against Couch.

Recently, California Assemblyman Mike Gatto introduced a bill known as AB 1508 that would take a much less passive approach to handling these “troubled” teens and removes the diagnosis of affluenza entirely.

“I view this legislation as a line in the sand about personal responsibility, but I also view it as a way to ensure that people who come from privileged backgrounds will not get a different type of justice,” Gatto told the Los Angeles Times.

Besides a verbal slap on the wrist, kids with this diagnosis would otherwise get away with just about anything because it mitigates the responsibility that follows a crime, even intoxicated manslaughter.

Since Couch is allowed to get a slap on the wrist for his crime while strung out on both alcohol and Valium, other ways of life should be considered if the justice system sees fit to play favorites.

If a “get out of jail free” card is used for the affluent, why not included other life circumstances?

For example, why can’t Defendant X get away with theft simply because he was burdened with having an athletic build that allowed him to escape faster?

It’s a textbook example of responsibility. In the first place, driving is a privilege that comes with responsibilities such as keeping the car inspected, wearing a seatbelt and refraining from driving drunk. Breaking any of these rules, especially the last, would teach anyone of any age a thing or two about staying accountable.

Having a license to drive a vehicle means one has considered the consequences and knows the obligations it requires.
All citizens young or old must adhere to the guidelines and rules of the road to ensure safety and fairness.

Where is the justice for the victims’ families when the kid who ran over their loved ones is shown mercy because mom and dad never told him no? Wealth doesn’t excuse ignorance and certainly is not above the law.

Conversely, perhaps some believe these types of children truly are too wealthy for their own well-being and in good conscience should not be punished for their parents’ success.

Arguably, the parents of the affluent might have an indirect hand in this situation. After all, the aforementioned toddler simply doesn’t know better than to disturb everyone within earshot because his mother will not correct him.

Who’s at fault? In this case, the parent is held responsible for not teaching her child basic human decency. On a larger scale, the parents of these alleged affluent kids could be held liable for their lack of adequate discipline.

However, obtaining a driver’s license also entails the responsibility of one’s own actions behind the wheel, no matter the age or income level.

But the fact is that innocent people were killed in an act of complete irresponsibility. In the real world with real adults, serious consequences follow.

If a person commits a serious crime given they are 18 years old, jail time should be in consideration. In any other case such as Couch’s, the person should be treated the same as normal citizens and receive real punishment. Mommy and Daddy shouldn’t be able to help eat their child’s slice of humble pie.