“AFFLUENZA”: Defense shows classism alive in well in the United States

By Elena Pinsker '17
Design Editor

In June 2013, a 16-year-old Texas boy got behind the wheel of a truck with three times the legal alcohol limit and traces of Valium flowing through his blood, driving 70 mph in a 40 mph area. Brian Jennings, Breanna Mitchell, Hollie Boyles, and Shelby Boyles were all killed that night. Yet, eight months later, he faces no jail time and virtually no repercussions for his crimes. You see, this 16-year-old boy was not only drunk and high when he got behind the wheel, he was also suffering from an affliction that a Texas court viewed as an explanation — and, seemingly, a justification — for his actions: “affluenza.”
The drunk driver claimed that being from a wealthy family meant that he was never taught that his actions had consequences — that he suffered from this “affluenza” — and thus could not be held responsible to face the consequences of his actions. Seeing the irony here? He now faces only 10 years of probation and an unspecified amount of time in a rehabilitation facility paid for by his parents. The Texas driver’s access to large amounts of money is seemingly the reason behind him “getting off easy” for the deaths of his four victims.
With regards to the Texas drunk driving case, it is baffling that such a weak and purely classist defense was able to spare a young killer the jail time that he deserves. The fame that he has received as a result of this “affluenza” perpetuates the idea that those who are wealthy are above the law — that having enough money can make it okay to quite literally get away with murder. Although California Assemblyman Mike Gatto has called for this “affluenza” defense to be banned in this state, we cannot deny that classism still exists in the United States.
While the Texan teenager could have (and should have) been made an example to show the country that nothing, not even wealth, makes driving under the influence acceptable, his sentencing has done the opposite. It proves that, to the U.S. government, the four victims’ lives have a literal price — one that the teenager’s parents can easily afford. It sets the example that the wealthy are exempt from following the laws that govern the rest of the country, and establishes a dangerous precedent for the future. It is an insult to the families and friends of not only the four victims in this case, but everyone who has ever been affected by a drunk driver. It seems that a trip to an expensive rehabilitation center is the price in Texas to pay for four lives, but it is unlikely that those who will never see their loved ones again agree.