‘Affluenza’ no excuse for getting away with crime

By Natalie Fiorilli | Student Columnist 

Ethan Couch was charged by police with four counts of intoxication manslaughter after a fatal drunken-driving accident on Dec. 28, 2015. His lawyer is known for giving the “affluenza” defense.

Ethan Couch was charged by police with four counts of intoxication manslaughter after a fatal drunken-driving accident on Dec. 28, 2015. His lawyer is known for giving the “affluenza” defense.

“Affluenza,” in the case of infamous teenager Ethan Couch, who was charged with four counts of intoxication manslaughter in Texas in 2013, refers to a failure to comprehend the consequences of one’s actions due to financial privileges.

This term was used in defense of Couch after he drunkenly crashed his vehicle into an SUV, killing four people and injuring several others. Affluenza could explain how individuals use their own fortune to selfishly avoid the negative repercussions for their actions.

But someone’s affluence is not a justifiable explanation for their lack of discipline, and it should not be used in a courtroom. Taking advantage of one’s own fortune to act without consequence is unacceptable.

Affluenza can take form at a young age and is typically enabled by parents. Couch lacked parental supervision early in his life, and was left undisciplined. Upper class parents who are more attentive to their children and ensure ramifications for bad behavior can minimize affluenza.

Cases similar to that of Couch are prevalent throughout history; take the O.J. Simpson trial, for example. Simpson was acquitted for murder, and his wealth certainly played its part in the entire process, especially considering his team of high-profile legal defenders. Simpson’s wealth provided a strong legal defense, capable of clearing a criminal, and his case’s acquittal was a shock to many legal experts at the time.

Although the rich are not guilty of the majority of crimes in the U.S., they may be more likely to be cleared of criminal charges. Those who can afford a private defender are more likely to have a shorter sentence than one given a public defender, according to an article in the New York Times.

Affluenza also affects academic responsibility. A study conducted by sociology professor Laura Hamilton at the University of California found that students who have their college tuition paid for by their families have lower grades than students who fund their education themselves.

The study also reported that students financially supported by their families are more likely to spend their time partying and participating in other non-academic activities. The study proved that some upper class students realize they will not have to face any real consequence for poor academic records.

Just like Couch, these fortunate students are able to behave recklessly, without concern for any negative repercussion. Being privileged enough to live without consequence can be dangerous, and Couch proved this through his drunk driving incident.

Students that are financially supported by their parents may be less concerned by academic progress with a guaranteed future in a family-run business or through another connection provided through their family.

The upper class is sometimes able to behave lawlessly due to a financial cushion.

After conducting experiments on the matter, a psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley, Dacher Keltner, concluded that the upper class has forgotten moral standards. In one experiment in particular, the wealthy were found to be more likely to break the law in comparison to the working class.

The attitude that the rich can get away with more due to their wealth is a form of elitism, and it’s difficult to believe that this imbalance of power will ever improve. The upper class will continue to have access to excellent legal defense and even networking opportunities in the professional world.

As for members of the “99 percent,” it’s important to embrace hard work and respect authority. While those less fortunate than the upper class may not have the same opportunities and connections, at least they have a sense of responsibility, and can’t use affluenza as an excuse for misconduct.

While affluenza may correctly diagnose this issue of a lack of punishment for wrong behavior, it does not mean that it should be used to defend these privileged individuals. Affluenza is not a mental disorder; it is a behavioral problem, and it should not relieve anyone of their responsibility to obey the law or earn success in an honest manner.

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