The country was collectively outraged last month when a 16-year-old boy from Texas was sentenced to probation after killing four people and seriously injuring several others following a terrible DWI accident. His lawyer used a novel approach to avoid jail time, explaining to the judge that the boy suffered from “affluenza,” a term that refers to the boy’s privileged life which left him unaware that his actions came with consequences.
In the Texas case, the teenager pled guilty to several counts of intoxication manslaughter and intoxication assault after crashing into a group of unsuspecting motorists in Fort Worth. Several cars had stopped to help a stranded motorist when the teenage driver who had a BAC more than twice the legal limit plowed into them. The accident killed four people and critically injured at least three others.
The teen’s defense attorney argued that his wealthy and overly permissive parents had taught him that his actions lacked consequences and that money solved all problems. The judge chose to sentence the boy to rehab rather than the 20-year prison term the prosecutors had asked for. It was later revealed that the rehab facility the boy would be living in was located in tony Newport Beach, CA and will cost the boy’s parents around $450,000.
After the headlines appeared on papers across the country, a legislator in California, Mike Gatto, began wondering whether a drunk driver in his state could make a similar claim. To his surprise there was nothing in California’s criminal law that would prevent a drunk driver from trying a similar approach.
To solve that problem, Gatto introduced a measure that has been dubbed the “Anti-Affluenza Bill.” The measure, known as AB 1508, prevents criminal defense attorneys from using “affluenza” at trial to avoid punishment or during sentencing to mitigate the extent of punishment. Though affluenza is a somewhat vague term, Gatto attempted to define the term as the idea that wealth or abnormally permissive parenting prevents a defendant from understanding that there can be criminal consequences for his or her actions.
Though the California bill is the first to try and strike down attempts to use affluenza to avoid jail time, it will likely not be the last. Experts say that after the success of the Texas case, it seems likely that other defense attorneys will try to use similar arguments to benefit their clients. Legislators appear ready to stop the trend, with officials in other states voicing support for the California initiative.
Source: “Groundbreaking California measure would outlaw ‘affluenza’ defense,” by Robin Abcarian, published at LATimes.com.