By Robert A. Vella
Affluenza: a psychological disorder afflicting wealthy people with an abnormal sense of entitlement and privilege which can produce feelings, in some individuals, that they are above the moral and legal norms of society.
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The following drunk-driving manslaughter case in Texas provides a poignant example, in a tragically long list of examples, of the structural inequalities built into the American judicial system. When wealth, or other circumstantial factors such as race, effectually determines the outcome of criminal prosecutions, there can be no equal protection under the law as codified by the 14th amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
When reading this story, consider what would have likely resulted had the defendant been a poverty-stricken teenager from a racial or ethnic minority group.
A Texas boy, 16, has received probation after pleading guilty to killing four people in a drunk-driving collision earlier this year. A psychologist who testified in the boy’s defense said he had been spoiled by his parents’ wealth and that he suffered from what he called “affluenza.”
Prosecutors said the boy was driving seven of his friends in his Ford F-350 on June 15 when the car collided with a group of people on the side of the road on the outskirts of Fort Worth. They were Breanna Mitchell of Lillian, Tex., whose car had broken down, Brian Jennings, and Hollie and Shelby Boyles, who had come to her assistance, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported. All four were killed, and two passengers in the truck were critically injured.
The boy pleaded guilty last week to manslaughter and assault while intoxicated. He had been speeding, and had Valium and a high level of alcohol in his blood, according to testimony.
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Prosecutors had asked that the boy be sentenced to 20 years in prison, but Gary Miller, the psychologist who testified in his behalf, recommended counseling. Miller said that the boy had an unhealthy relationship with his wealthy parents, who used him as a tool and a hostage to extract concessions from each other.
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The judge in the case, Jean Boyd, rejected the suggestion that the boy’s parents were ultimately responsible for his actions, and told him at his sentencing that he was at fault, according to WFAA.
Yet Boyd agreed that the defendant needs therapy and said that she feared he would not receive it from Texas’s juvenile system.
Members of the victims’ families were disappointed with the judge’s decision.