The only cure for affluenza is justice

Ethan Couch avoided jail due to having ‘affluenza.’ This injustice emphasizes the inequity between social classes in court.

Stuart Kusdono, Contributing Writer

Three people were helping out a dazed motorist who had just lost control and crashed her vehicle. Meanwhile, an intoxicated 16-year-old Ethan Couch, driving at 70 miles per hour in a designated 40 miles per hour zone, swerved off the road and crashed into the four people, leaving them dead. Though Couch was convicted on four counts of intoxication manslaughter, he was not sentenced to prison but to probation and rehabilitation.

His rehabilitation featured horseback-riding sessions, massages, and cooking classes. This is the “punishment” Couch received for killing four civilians and injuring eleven; for utterly shattering the lives of affected families, that he might realize his mistakes and distinguish the difference between right and wrong.

The real question, then, is how Couch pulled it off. How he was able to evade imprisonment on four counts of intoxication manslaughter in addition to two counts of intoxication assault. And the answer is money.

Affluenza is what the defense called it. A so-called psychological disorder not even recognized as a legitimate psychological disorder by the American Psychiatric Association, supposedly affecting extremely spoiled kids. The argument that saved Couch was that he was just so darn rich that he couldn’t tell the difference between right and wrong, never having received punishment for anything he had done.

And what better sentence to cure this “disease” than to give Couch no punishment whatsoever? After all, the judge’s essential purpose of the sentence—as stated by the judge herself—was to teach Couch responsibility and to give him a second chance in life. The sentence, then, is not only laughably absurd but also hypocritical.

If affluenza can be used as justification in court, then one must consider that the exact same reasoning can be applied to a poor person, whose violent and harsh background affected his poor decisions. Surely, if “affluenza” exists, then so does “poorfluenza.” In reality, though, the chances of a poor person receiving a lighter sentence for his background are extremely low compared to the chances of the wealthy.

This is where the money comes into play. The poor can’t even make a case with “poorfluenza” whereas the rich can with “affluenza,” and this is because the rich have the money to buy the best lawyers to make the best case. Such an inequity due to economic privilege blatantly contradicts the very definition of justice and the purpose of the court itself.

Couch’s sentence ultimately enforces his idea of affluenza and sends the message that the wealthy are privileged in court. The defense, in this sense, was not exactly wrong. As usual, the privileged received special treatment.