Many were outraged when Texas teen Ethan Couch – responsible for taking the lives of four people as he drove intoxicated in his family’s company truck – was only sentenced to ten years of counseling. Recent reports from court officials now have Texas taxpayers especially upset, as they learn they will be partially footing the bill.
17-year-old Couch’s parents will only be required to pay $1,170 a month for his treatment at a rural Vernon state hospital – which won’t cover costs for even two days there. The decision comes on the heels of a defense expert describing the teen as suffering “affluenza” – an irresponsible state into which his wealthy parents had coddled him.
Greg Coontz, an attorney for the family of a deceased victim, said: “As a taxpayer, I probably feel exactly like you do.” He went on to add, “It seems like maybe that ought to be a little different and should be addressed if there’s the ability to pay. Most time, I don’t know that there is. Clearly, sometimes that ability is there.
Lance Evans, the Couch family attorney, replied more pithily: “The family respects the decision of the facility and the court and will honor the payment system the court has put into place.”
“Affluenza”, a term popularized in the 90’s, is described by Time magazine as a “painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more.”
Although it’s hard to deny that our culture propagates a sense of spiritual dearth and insatiable desire for material acquisitions, it hardly seems like a fair defense in a court of law. Anyone raised within a social narrative like ours is subject to “seeking more” than they have. Even after our basic needs for survival are met, we’re encouraged to further search externally. Then, those who can barely meet those basic needs are punished disproportionately.
Counseling may thus seem like a good option to restore those with legal or substance abuse issues when possible. Yet, the larger issue being argued is an inequality across demographics when doling out these sentences versus time behind bars.
— Jason Johnson (@DrJasonJohnson) April 7, 2014
One issue brought up on social media is that only the financially fortunate find favor with the judges in avoiding jail time. For example, in March 2014, homeless mom Shanesha Taylor attended an interview for 45 minutes and had to leave two kids in her car. She faced a felony for child abuse. That same month, Dupont Empire heir Robert H. Richards IV received probation but no jail time after being found guilty – of raping his own 3 year old daughter. The judge stated he “wouldn’t fare well in prison.”
Is it fair that the rich receive help following heinous crimes, while a mom of two down on her luck and seeking legitimate employment… gets punished?
Also, how is it that Couch’s “wealth affliction” is enough to keep him from lockup, yet his family can’t afford the alternative treatment?
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