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The Travesty and Classism of the Affluenza Ruling

By now you’ve no doubt heard about the ruling in the Ethan Couch case citing “affluenza” as an excuse to essentially let the man off scot free. Yes, he has 10 years’ probation and must undergo therapy at a private in-home clinic in California, but this sentence is nothing considering the statute-mandated sentencing for his crimes. And, yes, he committed crimes plural that night. Multiple crimes. Judge Jean Boyd’s sentence is an absolute travesty and essentially a blatant admission by a member of our judicial branch that the wealthy are given preferential treatment in the United States of America.

This is NOT a case of trial by public opinion (which I will argue against in most cases where the prime suspect is acquitted) – Mr. Couch admitted to his crimes and plead guilty to all counts. His guilt is not in question. That he committed multiple crimes that night is not in question – he began by committing theft – he stole the alcohol that he then consumed to raise his blood alcohol content to 0.24, 3 times the Texas legal limit, and approaching the beginnings of fatal alcohol poisoning. What effects are carried by this level of alcohol? Loss of understanding, impaired sensations, severely impaired motor skills, memory loss, and loss of consciousness all can and do occur at this amount of alcohol in one’s system (1). Quite simply put, one should NOT be operating ANY motor vehicle at this point. And alcohol wasn’t the only substance in his blood stream that night – he had also taken valium. It is unclear whether this was also stolen, or whether he had a prescription for it. This is an extremely dangerous combination, as it can lead to heart failure, respiratory arrest, unconsciousness, and death (2)– quite simply, it’s amazing Mr. Couch was even able to turn the keys in the vehicle let alone accelerate it to the 60-70 miles an hour at which he was travelling in a 40 mile an hour zone – another crime, speeding. Finally, he killed 4 people and injured two (permanently paralyzing one of those). So let’s list the crimes he committed, and the sentence mandated by Texas law for each:

1. Theft under $50 (Class C Misdemeanor): $500 fine (3) (4)

2. Speeding, 20-30 mph over the limit (6): $264-$300 (5)

3. Driving under the influence (Class A Misdemeanor), 1 count: $4000 fine and/or 1 year in jail (4) (6)

4. Intoxication Assault (3rd Degree Felony), 1 count: 2-10 years in jail and up to $10,000 fine (4) (6)

5. Intoxication Assault causing paralysis (2nd Degree Felony), 1 counts: 2-20 years in jail and up to $10,000 fine (4) (6)

6. Intoxication Manslaughter (2nd Degree Felony), 4 counts: 2-20 years in jail and up to $10,000 fine (4) (6)

Summing these counts (8 of them), we come to a minimum of 12 years prison sentence and a maximum of 111 years, as well as up to a $64,800 fine. Just where does 10 years of probation with 2 years of counseling even APPROACH the minimum MANDATED penalty for his confessed crimes?

Why did he get off with less than a slap on the wrist? Quite simply put, because he is wealthy. He grew up in wealth. And Judge Boyd, in the most blatant case of classism I have ever seen in a court case, felt pity for him for having “suffered” from the made up “condition” of “affluenza,” which really just boils down to: “He grew up rich, had everything handed to him on a silver platter, and was never once disciplined for any transgression.” So she let him off.

So now we have two questions to ask: Is he a child, or an adult? If he’s still a child at 16, letting him off without any real penalty, is teaching him the lesson that he can get away with anything, up to and including murder. He literally killed 4 people. Their lives are ended irrevocably. He paralyzed another – that victim’s life will forever be limited: they will never walk or run again, and will not be able to take any job which requires any form of manual labor or movement. His will carry on almost as if nothing happened – he’s going to be sent to a home in California where his parents pay $450,000 a year for room and board and private counseling. If he’s an adult, then he needs to live up to the consequences of his actions and be punished as anyone else would be punished – using Texas’ State Legislated penalties.

In my not so humble opinion, Judge Jean Boyd needs to be disbarred, immediately. She clearly does not have the clearness of mind nr blindness to class necessary to issue impartial rulings. Her ruling is anything BUT impartial. Quite simply, in a court of law, one’s wealth should never come into the decision-making process (nor should one’s race, religion, or sex). Her sentence is beyond lenient or sympathetic – it is BENEATH the minimum sentence Mr. Couch should have received.

Even the psychologist, Dr. Gary Buffone, who used the term “Affluenza” later stated it was not meant as a diagnosis – he regretted using the term, and even later stated: "Essentially what he (the judge) has done is slapped this child on the wrist for what is obviously a very serious offense which he would be responsible for in any other situation," Buffone said. "The defense is laughable, the disposition is horrifying ... not only haven't the parents set any consequences, but it's being reinforced by the judge's actions."

Essentially, she is allowing Mr. Couch’s parents to buy him out of an uncomfortable situation – any other individual without the wealth to afford a $450,000 per year in-home counseling program would be spending a minimum of 12 years behind bars for this incident. It is clearly one more instance of the increasingly open enforcement by our corporately-controlled governmental system of our country’s exponentially stratifying class system – keep the rich rich, give them privilege for their wealth, and keep the poor poor and incapable of changing the situation.

(1) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blood_alcohol_content

(2) http://www.axisresidentialtreatment.com/valium-addiction/mixing-alcohol/

(3) http://www.statutes.legis.state.tx.us/Docs/PE/htm/PE.31.htm

(4) http://www.statutes.legis.state.tx.us/Docs/PE/htm/PE.12.htm

(5) http://texas.drivinguniversity.com/speeding-tickets/speeding-ticket-fines/

(6) http://www.statutes.legis.state.tx.us/Docs/PE/htm/PE.49.htm

(7) http://www.startribune.com/nation/235523421.html

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