California lawmaker, Mike Gatto, is proposing a new law that would ban the use of “affluenza” as a defense in criminal trials. In December, a Texas teenager was spared jail time in a fatal drunk-driving crash. The teen’s defense team’s supporting evidence was that he was incapable of understanding consequences for his choices due to affluenza.
The Los Angeles-area state Assemblyman introduced a bill this week that would prohibit considering a person’s privilege when sentencing – basically, environmental conditions impacting a defendant’s behavior should be ignored.
“The fact that a defendant did not understand the consequences of his or her actions because he or she was raised in an affluent or overly permissive household shall not be considered a circumstance in mitigation of the crime in determining the punishment to be imposed,” the bill states.
The bill is a response to a controversial Texas case. In December 2013, State District Judge Jean Boyd sentenced a 16 y/o Ethan Couch to 10 years probation for drunk driving and killing four pedestrians and injuring 11 after his attorneys successfully argued that the teen suffered from affluenza and needed rehabilitation, and not prison. The defendant was caught on surveillance video stealing beer from a store, driving with seven passengers in his father’s Ford F-350 pick-up, speeding (70 MPH in a 40 MPH zone), and had a blood alcohol content of .24‰, three times the legal limit for an adult in Texas, when he was tested 3 hrs after the accident. Traces of Valium were also in his system. Dr. G. Dick Miller, a psychologist hired as an expert witness by the defense, testified in court that the teen was a product of affluenza and was unable to connect his behavior with consequences due to his parents teaching him that wealth buys privilege and insulates him from repercussions. The rehabilitation facility near Newport Beach, California (Newport Academy) that the teen will be attending will cost his family an estimated $450,000 annually.
Back to Gatto – He said he is trying to prepare for the next time someone attempts to hide behind the affluenza defense.
“People often think of the Legislature as too reactive,” Gatto told the L.A. Times. “Up until last year, for instance, it was not illegal to commit rape if the victim thought the rapist was her husband or boyfriend, and people said how did you let this stay on the books so long? We’re trying to be proactive.”
The bill, introduced Tuesday, January 14, may be debated in committee as early as February.