My cousin David texted me saying I should blog about Affluenza. Huh? Affluenza? Did he mean and simply mistype influenza? Very unlikely. David is a much better proofreader than I am. So, I did what I always do when I am curious about something: I solicited the internet.
The term has some buzz because of the recent case of 16 year old Ethan Couch of Texas. It seems young Ethan got really drunk, somewhere in the neighborhood of three times the legal limit. He was driving his fathers F350 pickup at a speed of 70 mph in a 40 mph zone. He lost control of the behemoth pickup truck and plowed into a stranded motorist and others who were trying to help her. Four people were killed and two others were severely injured. It was a horrible accident.
The prosecutor wanted a sentence of 20 years. Ethan's parents are wealthy. They hired the best attorneys their money could buy. These attorneys went with the "Affluenza" defense. Basically, the defense argued that "he was coddled too much by his wealthy parents, who have never held him accountable for his actions." NPR
The reason that this word and this case is getting attention is because this argument won the day. Ethan Couch was given ten years probation and his parents will be sending him to a very expensive rehab center for some undisclosed time.
The term Affluenza was not created for this case. There was a 2001 anti-consumerism book, Affluneza: The All-Consuming Epidemic by by John de Graaf, David Wann, Thomas H. Naylor, that talked about the ills of the contagious disease of having to amass vast amount of things most of which we do not need. In 2005, another book, Affluenza: When Too Much is Never Enough by Professor Clive Hamilton and Richard Denniss addressed the same issue i.e Western Society being addicted to over consumption. Heck, I have even blogged about it in March 2007: Consumerism.
Using Affluenza as a legal defense is a new twist and use of this term. It seems many are offended by this. Leaving out the use of this term, Affluenza, this trial just confirms a well known and well worn state of affairs in our legal system. Basically, if you can afford the best attorneys money can buy, the probability of conviction and jail time is minimized. To me this is what happened in the Couch case. Ethan's parents basically bought his way out of juvenile detention or jail.
It reminds me of another case: O. J. Simpson. When this trial was taking place, the nation was polarized around race. I followed the case because of the hype and show put on by OJ's attorneys: Johnnie Cochran, Robert Shaprio, and others. When the final verdict came in and the case was dismissed I recall seeing photos of elated black folks and white folks in shock... in the same photo. There was a lot of talk about the case and again it was polarized by race. I also remember thinking, this case was not about race but the fact that O. J. Simpson had enough money to hire a crack team of lawyers pure and simple.
I feel bad for the victims and the families of the victims of Ethan Couch's drunken driving. He or his parents should have had to do some time and that money the paid for attorneys and the rehab would have been better used to pay for the funerals of those who died and the medical bills of the two injured parties. This is not legally thinking but more my sense of right and wrong.