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Judge Takes Steps to Criminalize the Rich

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Rich kids are so privileged, so oblivious, that they can develop a type of mental disorder that makes them no longer responsible for their actions or aware of consequences. At least that is the conclusion of one judge in Texas who handed down a light sentence to a teen involved in a drunk driving accident that resulted in death.

“When a lawyer argued that a 16-year-old involved in a fatal drunk-driving collision in Texas suffered from ‘affluenza,’” reports, “or being so privileged by his rich parents that he wasn’t capable of distinguishing the consequences of bad behavior, many eyebrows were raised. But it seemingly convinced the judge, who issued a minimal sentence to the teen whose car killed four people. Ethan Couch was ordered to probation and alcohol treatment, but will not go to jail.”

While in the case cited above it helped the defendant escape more severe consequences for his actions, it sets a precedence that says that money is a type of mental disorder from which society has to protect itself.

Under this definition, might judges be able to order defendants to undergo psychiatric treatment or counseling in lieu of jail time on the basis of a their own net worth, their parents’ status or other subjective measures of success?

The answer, unfortunately, is yes.

In a world where race baiters, and hustlers of division now routinely push the concept of “white privilege” to explain why their liberal policies have failed the African American community; in a country where the president of the United States routinely blames rich people for the sins of the government, it’s a short distance between excusing someone for their behavior based on circumstances and accusing someone for their behavior based on circumstance.

I have little faith that our political betters, from the White House to the court system, will be able to maintain a distance between accusation and excuses now that this judge has opened the door.

“Affluenza,” as it is called, already has a dictionary definition.

“The Oxford Dictionary defines the condition as ‘a psychological malaise supposedly affecting young people,’” says CNN legal contributor Paul Callan, “’symptoms of which include a lack of motivation, feelings of guilt, and a sense of isolation.’"

And apparently, lots of money.

But it is not recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) as a mental disorder.

At least not yet.

The DSM is the bible of psychiatry and is no stranger to controversy, often being accused of changing diagnosis criteria on the basis of political pressure, federal policy and federal funding versus the plain old science that is used for diagnosing heart disease or other physical ailments.

“Theoretically, it’s possible that community providers and clinicians are incentivized to label kids with [a disorder], because [the DSM] would make it more likely to receive appropriate services,” Dr. Alexandar Kolevzon, associate professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, told

The DSM used to recognize homosexual and transgendered behavior as deviant.

As the political and sociological winds have changed, the DSM redefined sexual identity into more acceptable behaviors as judged by the mainstream of American thought.In the same way the DSM could legitimize an “affleunza” diagnosis as something needing treatment.

"Unfortunately, given the fact that [the affluenza defense] was successful, it's more likely that more attorneys are going to pick it up and wave it as their banner," said Gary Buffone, a Jacksonville, Fla., psychologist who does family wealth advising told USAToday.

As people use the bogus “affluenza” diagnosis, look for those with a political axe to grind to grind away at success and wealth.

The backlash has already started.

“But, the practice of using a client's background in arguments to make him or her less responsible or culpable for a crime is the core of good defense work,” Daniel Filler, a law professor at Drexel University says. "’The real truth is that our criminal justice system is suffering from 'affluenza' because affluent people can afford better attorneys and get better outcomes,’" he concluded.

While that certainly is true, it’s short step from admitting that being wealthy in general is better than being poor, to looking for a kind of affirmative action for courts that accordingly should base their sentences on some combination of skin color, wealth or status.

Hot news for everyone: The rich, by the very definition of the term, get more than poor people do. They have better houses, better cars, and better schools.

They also have better lawyers.

But as the Couch story makes clear, the rich don’t have better lives necessarily.

That’s up to each of us individually.

“Ultimately, aside from Couch, the case has more losers than winners” explains Christopher J. Ferguson an associate professor and department chair of psychology at Stetson University in Time Magazine. “The criminal justice system will suffer from the impression it is classist and unreliable. Psychology will take a hit for being linked to the affluenza term, despite it not being a product of psychological science. And the case will add to the unfair characterization of kids as spoiled, entitled brats, despite the fact that most youth are not. “

People should be judged as individuals, not as members of any class who can be re-educated, deprogrammed or judged on the basis of wealth, success or supposed “privilege.”

But what else is to be expected from a country that is obsessed with the differences between us, angry about success per se, that views wealth as inherently unfair to begin with?

Adam and Eve, it will be noted, had no material needs. They lived in a socialist paradise. There were no distinctions amongst them.

Yet still they sinned and paid the consequences, as do the rest of us as a general thing.

“Not on account of sympathy with him, said Mark Twain of Adam and Eve’s affluenza-addled son Cain to whom he wished to dedicate the book Roughing It*, “for his bloody deed placed him without the pale of sympathy, strictly speaking: but out of a mere humane commiseration for him in that it was his misfortune to live in a dark age that knew not the beneficent Insanity Plea.”

And our misfortune to live in time when wealth or affluence is misunderstood as either criminal or insane.

* Twain eventually dedicated the book "to Calvin H. Higbie, Of California, an Honest Man, a Genial Comrade, and a Steadfast Friend. This Book Is Inscribed By the Author, In Memory of the Curious Time When We Two Were Millionaires For Ten Days."

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