Affluenza Defense Prevents Jail for Vehicular Manslaughter

They call it “affluenza” — the inability to understand the consequences of your actions because you are simply too rich and entitled. Although it is not an official diagnosis, it was recently used in a successful courtroom defense in the South, allowing a wealthy teen to avoid prison time even though he reportedly killed four pedestrians in a drunk driving wreck. The boy’s blood alcohol level at the time of the crash was three times the legal limit, according to official reports. However, he will only serve a 10-year probation sentence in connection with the felony DWI allegations, instead of facing the potential 20-year sentence behind bars.

A judge in the case decided against imprisoning the 16-year-old driver, largely because of testimony from a psychologist in the boy’s juvenile court case. Mental health professionals say that Missouri residents, nor anyone else, cannot actually suffer from “affluenza,” because it is not a diagnosed mental condition. Some say the term should never have been used, and it was misinterpreted as an actual defense.

Opponents of the decision say that the boy’s parents have not punished him for the incident, and the judge simply reinforced that decision by putting him on probation instead of sentencing him to jail time. The teen admitted to charges associated with the intoxication manslaughter case during the three-day-long legal proceeding. He was accused of stealing beer from a nearby store in his Ford F-350 truck and driving away with seven friends before striking the four pedestrians, ages 21 to 52.

Even though the defendant will not be serving jail time for the DWI charge, his parents have agreed to send him to a comprehensive rehabilitation center on the West Coast, at a cost of $450,000 per year. Even though “affluenza” may not be an actual diagnosed condition, it appears that this teen was lucky enough to benefit from the defense. It is not clear whether this case will set an important precedent for future juvenile cases, though it has caught the nation’s attention. Meanwhile, the families of the victims can pursue civil litigation for the tragedy that ended their loved ones’ lives.

Source: KRCG 13, “ Did wealth and privilege help drunken teen get light sentence?” RAMIT PLUSHNICK-MASTI, Dec. 13, 2013

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