The case of the Texas teen who killed four pedestrians while drunk driving and got off with what amounts to a slap on the wrist has been making its way around the internet. The teen, whose blood alcohol level was three times the legal limit, received only 10 years probation and a mandatory stint at an expensive rehabilitation clinic after his defense successfully argued that he had ‘affluenza,’ a disease caused by, basically, being rich.
The term affluenza was coined in 2001 in the book “Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic.” It is defined as a disconnect from reality caused by being wealthy, and specifically a disconnect from the consequences of ones actions. It was argued that the defendant had been shielded by his parents wealth his whole life, and therefore was not able to accurately judge the consequences of his actions.
While growing up surrounded by the cushion of wealth undoubtedly significantly alters your perspective, extending it to a legitimate condition, and even worse a legitimate legal defense, is laughable, if not despicable. It is telling that while there was an outpouring of anger and disbelief after the conclusion of the trial, an argument for affluenza as a legitimate legal defense was nowhere to be found.
Accepting affluenza as more than social phenomenon and a real disease assumes a complete disregard for basic tenets of right and wrong. I find it extremely hard to believe that the Texas teen in this case thought that stealing two cases of beer from a store, drinking and then driving was perfectly acceptable, even if he was completely disconnected from the real world. He understood what he was doing, it was the consequences that he could not comprehend. Why not drink and drive if there are no consequences associated with it? It may be wrong, but hey, it’s not like it matters to me.
As has been stated many times before, legitimizing affluenza only perpetuates its symptoms. The defendant is now even more secure in his privilege, because the worst case scenario came to pass and he was able to rise easily above the legal system and receive a punishment less than that of an inner-city kid caught selling weed.
Further reading: Jessica Ann Mitchell portrays excellently the the inequality which the affluenza decision perpetuates.