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Affluenza: No excuses when rich people make poor decisions

In early February, 16-year-old boy Ethan Couch was prosecuted for a second time in a state-district court for killing four and injuring two while driving drunk in Fort Worth, Texas. The prosecution wanted to incarcerate Couch for 20 years on the charge of intoxicated manslaughter.

Just last week, settlements were agreed upon through a number of civil lawsuits, coming to the terms that the Couch family will pay an undisclosed amount to the victims’ families.


Ethan Couch had been driving with a blood-alcohol content of three times the legal limit, with seven passengers, in the back of his father’s company pick-up truck. Speeding down the road at 70 mph, Couch crashed into a car parked on the shoulder, killing four people who were attempting to replace a flat tire.

In the defense arguments, Couch’s expert witness G. Dick Miller Ph.D testified that Couch had been raised with a lifestyle in which wealth brought privilege, and bad behavior brought few consequences.

Miller referred to this affliction as “affluenza.” His testimony reportedly swayed the judge to reduce Couch’s sentence to a ten year probation. The judge also required Couch’s parents to pay for their son’s stay in an expensive rehabilitation facility, in lieu of the 20 years in prison.

When I read this story, I immediately was repulsed. The fact that a drunk teenager could get away with murder because he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth is both offensive and inexcusable.

That being said, I immediately drew parallels between our community of Marin and that of Fort Worth, and the lifestyles we share. I am also aware that, similar to Ethan’s family’s lifestyle, people often criticize Marin for the same characteristics: wealth, privilege, and entitlement.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median annual income of a Marin household in 2012 was $90,962, while the median annual income of a U.S. household is $53,046.

Regardless of annual income, the defense of affluenza is less than supportable. While our area is known for its high income and a stereotypically lavish lifestyle, we should reject the excuse of affluenza.

Affluenza could have been attempted as a defense for former Redwood student Max Wade after he was convicted of possession of a stolen vehicle.

Also a product of privilege, Wade’s major defense was his upbringing. But rather than affluenza, his defense claimed that instability resulted in his less than admirable actions.

Would the affluenza defense have been as successful for Wade as it was for Couch?

Being brought up with a lack of consequence and an inability to take responsibility should be no excuse for those who fail to do their chores, turn in homework, or obey the speed limit. Driving under the influence or stealing a lamborghini cannot be excused by affluence either.

The claim of affluenza is ultimately stating that if one has money, they are above the law and are not subject to repercussions.

Even if this excuse were to be applied to a situation not as extreme as Couch’s, it would not be acceptable in Marin.

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About the Contributor
Megan Millard, Author